Health and Safety

Hand-arm vibrations – an eye opener

Headshot of Sarah Cope

Sarah Cope, Business Development Manager

08 September 2022

At the September meeting of the South East Health and Safety Network we were delighted to welcome Andrew from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Andrew who is a Specialist Inspector of Health and Safety (noise and vibration) gave an insightful presentation all about the risks of Hand Arm Vibration (HAVs). Not being a Health and Safety Officer myself I found the presentation to be extremely interesting and it made me aware something I hadn’t really given much thought to.  

With many of the attendees of the SE H&S network being Council and Fire and Rescue Services officers we focussed on control, monitoring and managing of HAVs risk in that setting.  

In a nutshell here are the main take aways for me. 

First and foremost, Andrew highlighted that we should be aiming to eliminate vibration exposure altogether, where possible, rather than just reduce. If there are ways of getting tools out of people’s hands that is the best way to eliminate the risk of over exposure to vibration. He showed there are many vehicle-mounted or remote-control alternatives of the many tools that are traditionally handheld. For example., vehicle mounted Road breakers and hedge trimmers, and remote control grass cutters.

The Symptoms of over exposure to vibration include, tingling in the ends of fingers, fingertips turning white, or simply being unable to feel your own fingers. The knock-on effects in everyday life for the victims of over exposure to HAVs include being unable to pick up a pen, not being able to do up zips… this got me thinking how important the sense of touch is and how I take it for granted, my life would drastically change if I lost that sense altogether. Andrew mentioned that in a prosecution often listening to the victim-impact statement is extremely difficult.

Legs of someone using a road breaker
Arms and body of a man using a hand held hedge trimmer
Women using a drill. She is wearing safety gear including a hard hat, gloves and protective glasses.

It was obvious through the presentation how crucial training is, to ensure tools are being used in the right way. Some officers noted that when undertaking monitoring exercises they have found one person’s HAV’s exposure rating was higher than another’s using exactly the same tool – this came down to an operator issue and in all cases was subsequently resolved. 

Monitoring is a useful tool in understanding how much vibration a tool generates. However, monitoring is a worthwhile exercise only if controls are then put in place. It is also important to consider if monitoring is worth the expense or if money could be better spent on elimination or reducing exposure.  

Equipment maintenance is vital. For tools which generate vibration, where an alternative to eliminate vibration is not available to you, those you do use must be well maintained. The vibration calculation becomes irrelevant if the tool is old and not properly serviced regularly. 

Finally, during the questions section of the presentation it was raised that honestly is absolutely crucial and heavily relied on. Those using vibration exposure tools must choose to be honest if they are starting to feel some of the symptoms of over exposure to vibration starting. Too often an individual may overlook symptom onset for fear that they may lose their job. This may just be a question of awareness, ensuring staff understand the importance of early diagnosis and what will happen if diagnosed.  

The South East Health and Safety Network is a gathering of Health and Safety Officers from around the region. The network is open to all SEE member councils including the Fire and Rescue Service organisations. 

The group provides an opportunity for Health and Safety professionals to discuss challenges and issues they are facing whether pandemic related or not, and to share experiences and best practice in supporting colleagues. It’s also a great opportunity to meet new colleagues across the region. 

Get in touch

If you want to find out if you are eligible to join the SE Health and Safety Network get in touch using the form.

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