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OPERC Commission New Research into Hand Arm Vibration

New Guidance Hand-arm Vibration to be Released (23/01/05)

Hand-arm vibration (HAV) is concerned with the transmission of vibration into operatives’ [1] hands and arms (HSE, 2003A, p27). Typically, though not exclusively, this results from using -emitting hand-held tools at work such as drills, saws and grinders.

The risk to operatives from regular, frequent or continued exposure to HAV is negative health effects. These effects tend to be related to impaired blood circulation and damage to nerves and muscles (HSE, 2003B, p3) particularly, in the hands and lower arms. Specific HAV exposure medical symptoms are looked at in more detail under the section Health Effects from Exposure to Hand-arm Vibration, but the most commonly known conditions from exposure are Vibration White Finger (VWF) (Hughes and Ferret, 2003, p 283) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).

VWF, or Secondary Raynaud’s Phenomenon to give it its medical name, was first linked to the use of pneumatic tools in 1911 and the awareness of VWF and its causes grew with the increasing use of electrical power (tools) and other forms of mechanisation through the early part of the 20th Century (HSE, 2004A). Knowledge of HAV increased throughout the Century and in 1985 VWF became a reportable disease under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations [as amended by RIDDOR, (1995)]. A survey by the Medical Research Council during 1997-98 estimated that 288,000 people suffered from VWF in Great Britain (HSE, 2004B). Of course, maybe not all of these cases were directly attributable to HAV but equally, VWF is but one of a range of medical conditions that can result from exposure. More detailed statistics on the extent of negative health resulting from vibration exposure are presented later.

Operatives’ exposure to HAV is now considered such a serious health hazard, that the European Community issued a health and safety Directive on it in 2002 (EC, 2002). As a result of that Directive, the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations (CVWR, 2005) have more recently brought HAV under UK workplace health and safety statute. (The new Regulations also cover whole-body vibration (WBV) but WBV is beyond the scope of this guide on HAV. A separate OPERC publication (Edwards and Holt, 2005) deals specifically with WBV).

In view of increased HAV ‘awareness’ and more recently, its ‘formalisation’ under the umbrella of UK workplace health and safety law, this guide sets about explaining how these issues affect both employers and employees, who are ‘associated’ with vibration-emitting hand-held tools and work processes.

In particular, this includes the following topics:

  • a description of HAV and the nature of its sources;
  • a description of hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS);
  • an indication of the potential negative-health effects from exposure to HAV;
  • an overview of legislation relating to the subject;
  • practical guidance for assessing HAV risks; and
  • practical guidance for controlling, mitigating or removing HAV risks.

In short, this guide provides a concise overview of current HAV knowledge combined with practical advice for meeting the requirements of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 (hand-arm vibration).

[1] For ease of reading, the term operative is used throughout this guide to describe any person who through the use of tools, equipment, or processes might be subject to HAV at work. The term may therefore be considered as including ‘person’, employee’, ‘worker’ and so on.

If you have any queries regarding Whole Body Vibration , then please contact the Administrator; Email: [email protected].