Out on site, there’s always something which can send you scuttling off to the nearest A&E ward. Whether it’s falling debris, slippery surfaces or misused equipment, there’s really no shortage of ways you can harm yourself if you’re not careful. However, there are some injuries you can sustain on site that don’t manifest themselves in bruised bones or visible wounds.
We’re talking about Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), a serious condition which, if left unattended, can lead to serious disability in certain cases.
Whether you’re managing a site or working on one it’s vitally important that you know what causes HAVS, how to avoid it and whether you’re suffering from it already. Here’s everything you need to know:
What causes Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome?
Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome is caused by prolonged (typically for several years) exposure to vibrations in your hand and arms. On site, this can come from the likes of hammering, drilling or any other activity which causes serious vibrations.
It’s most commonly noted in those working in professions like construction, metal work, auto repair, welding and electrical work, but can appear in any profession where heavy vibrations are regularly encountered.
Whilst some people can go decades working with vibrations comfortably, others begin exhibiting symptoms of HAVS within a couple of years. But what are those symptoms?
Symptoms of HAVS
Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome manifests itself, particularly in the early stages, as a tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers. You might notice that you’re struggling to feel things with the clarity you once did.
Over time, these symptoms develop into reduced sensitivity and limited dexterity in the hands, making moving and grabbing with them difficult. This also includes a loss of strength in fingers, where you find yourself less capable of picking up or holding heavy objects.
Vascular injuries are also extremely common. If you find your hands going white when exposed to cold weather, before experiencing major tingling or pain in your hands as blood returns, you might well be suffering from HAVS.
If you continue to use high-vibration tools without proper precautions, you risk fully developing neurological vibration damage. At this stage, hand function is severely reduced to the point one can struggle to hold a glass of water, or insert a key into a lock. Additionally, severe arthritis and tendonitis have been observed in fully developed HAVS sufferers. At this stage, HAVS is completely irreversible.
How can you avoid Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome?
With such debilitating symptoms, it’s clear that Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome should be avoided at all costs, but how?
Key to safe work with vibrations is to pay attention to any symptoms you’re encountering. In the early stages, there are a variety of options available, from dedicated vibration-dampening gloves to alternative techniques and even dedicated compacting equipment designed to offer a low hand-arm vibration output, like those offered by Weber MT.
Here’s our top tips for controlling the risk of developing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome:
- Make sure your staff are aware of the symptoms and risks of HAVS, ensuring that those who report symptoms are sent to a doctor as soon as possible.
- Make adjustments to working procedure to reduce the potential for staff to encounter heavy vibrations, i.e. use a breaker attachment on an excavating machine, rather than a hand-held breaker.
- Ensure that the equipment selected for your staff is fully functional and up to date. More modern tools are often built with vibration limiting in mind.
- Select the lowest vibration tool which is suitable for the job.
- Invest in vibration reducing HSE for all members of staff interacting with vibration producing equipment.
- Limit the time that employees are exposed to vibration, planning work to avoid individuals being exposed to vibrations for prolonged periods, instead favouring short bursts.
- Ensure staff are wearing HSE that keeps them warm and dry, encouraging good blood circulation.
With all that, you’re ready to help protect yourself or your employees from the very real dangers of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome.