Lancashire County Council has been fined £50,000 after several employees carrying out work in the highways department developed a debilitating nerve condition, Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), as a result of a failure to control vibration exposure.
The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) investigation found that there had been insufficient supervision and monitoring by the council to ensure that operatives accurately recorded their levels of vibration exposure.
HAVS is caused by repeated and frequent use of hand-held vibrating tools, resulting in a painful and disabling disorder affecting the hand’s blood vessels, nerves, and joints. In the UK, nearly two million workers are at risk. Affected workers may experience pain, loss of grip strength and tingling and sensation loss in their fingers, with worsening chronic effects with continued exposure. Employers, meanwhile, run the risk of reputational damage, fines and compensation claims.
Tim Turney, Global Marketing Manager at occupational hygiene and environmental expert Casella, comments, “The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 require employers to assess, eliminate or reduce vibration risks to the lowest reasonably practicable level, and provide information and training for employees on the dangers and control measures. The vibration regulations include an exposure action value (EAV) and an exposure limit value (ELV) based on a combination of the vibration at the grip point(s) on the equipment or workpiece and the time spent gripping it.”
“Conducting a risk assessment can help identify where there might be a risk from vibration, which employees are most likely to be affected, and if and where vibration controls are needed to comply with the law.”
“Employers must train workers on the hazards of working with vibrating tools, including exposure sources, early signs and symptoms of HAVS, and work practices that can minimise the risks. For example, workers can be instructed to keep their hands warm and dry and avoid gripping tools too tightly. In addition, employers should provide Personal Protective Equipment wherever required, such as heat-insulating gloves to keep hands warm and improve blood circulation.”
“Employers should also consider their workplace design and task structure. For example, employers can limit the number of hours that a worker uses a vibrating tool and re-arrange the working day to alternate vibrating and non-vibrating tool use. In addition, employees should be given a ten to fifteen-minute break from tool use every hour.”
“When purchasing equipment, businesses should compare vibration emission information for different brands and models and ask for information on any training required for safe operation. After purchase, vibrating tools must be kept in good working order. Equipment changes with wear and tear; therefore, the manufacturer’s stated vibration and trigger time may increase or decrease. Monitoring equipment such as the Casella HAVex Vibration Meter can accurately measure the levels of vibration transmitted to the hand from power tools, vehicles, machine controls and other vibration sources. This provides a baseline vibration level for the equipment used and allows for a calculation of exposure and maximum permissible trigger times. Vibration levels from equipment can act as an indicator to take it out of service for maintenance, helping to keep employees safe. The HAVex also allows for measurements to be downloaded for analysis and storage, ensuring that data is readily available to demonstrate compliance. “
“Ultimately, HAVS caused by exposure to vibration at work is preventable, but once evident, there is no treatment to reverse the harm to worker health. Taking control measures seriously and adopting technology to improve health and safety around vibration risk can help protect more workers and achieve compliance with legislation.”