Company Fined after Workers’ Ten-Year HAVS Exposure

A train refurbishment firm has been fined after workers were exposed to hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) from 2005 to 2015.

HAVS is transmitted into workers’ hands and arms by using vibrating hand held power tools and hand guided equipment. Nearly two million people in the UK are said to be at risk of developing HAVS. Regular and frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration can cause painful long-term injury to blood vessels, nerves and joints.

Hand Arm Vibrtaion Syndrome
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People at risk from hand-arm vibration syndrome

The train refurbishment workers had used a number of vibrating tools including sanders and air-fed cutting equipment. The court heard their vibration exposure was uncontrolled and unrestrained. In 2015, one employee complained of HAVS like symptoms after using an air-fed cutting tool to remove rubber seals from train doors. Despite this, the company failed to promptly manage the risk of HAVS exposure. Another worker later reported using grinders for up to eight hours a day – often until his hands hurt.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had long failed to consider the risk of exposure to hand transmitted vibration tools. Investigators found:

  • Little or no managerial oversight to control exposure to vibrating equipment;
  • No safe system of work including control, monitoring and maintenance measures;
  • Measures to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of HAVS exposure were not taken;
  • No instruction and training on use of tools had been given; and
  • No health surveillance in place.

Health and safety fine

Faiveley Transport Tamworth Ltd pleaded guilty to breaking the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay costs of £45,000.

The HSE said the company completely failed to grasp the importance of HAVS health surveillance.

It commented “If the company had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would not only have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor workers’ health but would have identified from the outset that one of their employees has primary Raynaud’s phenomenon and should not have been made to work with vibrating tools because of his likely heightened susceptibility”.

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Total fine

Employer’s Duty

By law, workers must be protected from hand-arm vibration. Under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, employers must limit and ultimately remove the risks of vibration by making sure exposure is as low as ‘reasonably practicable’.  

Where the risks are low, the actions taken may be simple and inexpensive, but where the risks are high, they should be managed using a prioritised action plan to control hand-arm vibration exposure. Risks from exposure to noise may also need to be considered. Whether you have a hand-arm vibration problem will depend on how:

  • Regularly and frequently your employees work with vibrating tools and equipment and/or handle vibrating materials.
  • Long workers are exposed to vibration and at what level.

By law, workers must be protected from hand-arm vibration. Under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, employers must limit and ultimately remove the risks of vibration by making sure exposure is as low as ‘reasonably practicable’.

Health and safety risk

Where the risks are low, the actions taken may be simple and inexpensive, but where the risks are high, they should be managed using a prioritised action plan to control hand-arm vibration exposure. Risks from exposure to noise may also need to be considered. Whether you have a hand-arm vibration problem will depend on how:

  • Regularly and frequently your employees work with vibrating tools and equipment and/or handle vibrating materials; and
  • Long workers are exposed to vibration and at what level.

You must also bear in mind different jobs emit different levels of vibration – cutting brick creates a different level to cutting wood. 

The regulations provide the following formula to determine the maximum level of vibration an employee can be exposed to on any single day:

 

Daily exposure action value

Daily exposure limit value[

Hand-arm vibration

2.5 m/s² A(8)

5 m/s² A(8)

As a simple guide, you will likely need to act if the following apply:

  • Do employees complain of tingling and numbness in hands or fingers after using vibrating tools?
  • Do workers hold work pieces that vibrate while being processed by powered machinery such as pedestal grinders?
  • Do employees regularly use hand held or hand guided power tools and machines?
  • Do employees regularly operate hammer action tools for more than 15 minutes per day and/or rotary and other action tools for more than one hour per day?

As a simple guide, you will likely need to act if the following apply:

  • Do employees complain of tingling and numbness in hands or fingers after using vibrating tools?
  • Do workers hold work pieces that vibrate while being processed by powered machinery such as pedestal grinders?
  • Do employees regularly use hand held or hand guided power tools and machines?
  • Do employees regularly operate hammer action tools for more than 15 minutes per day and/or rotary and other action tools for more than one hour per day?
health and safety specialist

Ellis Whittam's HAVS Top Tips

HAVS is preventable but once the damage is done it is permanent. Symptoms include:

  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers.
  • Not being able to feel things properly.
  • Loss of strength in the hands.
  • Fingers going white and becoming red and painful on recovery.

Identifying signs and symptoms at an early stage is critical. You must therefore put effective monitoring systems in place. Ongoing monitoring and recording also helps make sure standards are followed. Where required, make sure:

  • Control measures to reduce vibration are properly applied.
  • Information, training and health surveillance is provided.
  • Workers are given the right equipment.
  • Vibration levels are appropriately monitored.

Make sure regular workplace risk assessments are carried out – especially if anything changes that may affect exposure to vibration. Assessments help ensure changes are productive and that hand tools/machines are safe to use.

The most effective way of controlling exposure to hand-arm vibration is to look for new or alternative work methods that remove or reduce exposure to vibration.

Need Help?

To make sure your business is fully compliant and your risk assessments are up-to-date, speak with one of our experienced consultants for practical advice and guidance.