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Duty to manage exposure to vibrations

HAVS is a common industrial injury that can cause substantial disruption to a person’s life. It commonly affects the construction sector and anyone working in heating and ventilation that uses vibrating tools and machinery, such as drills and other hand-held or hand-guided equipment for long periods, is at risk but many are unaware of the dangers until it is too late.

Employers have a responsibility to monitor and manage their employees’ exposure to vibrations and there can be significant penalties for businesses that breach the HSE’s guidelines. Recent estimates from insurer AXA suggest that average claims for HAVS are approximately £70,000 once legal fees are taken into account.

However, the good news is there are plenty of precautions to reduce the risks.

The condition, which is also known as Vibration White Finger or dead finger, is usually a permanent problem and symptoms often include poor circulation, which can result in the fingers turning white, a tingling sensation and numbness.

Vibrations passing through the fingers, hands and arms cause the problem, which can damage the small nerves and blood vessels. Anyone who ignores the symptoms and carries on using the offending equipment is risking their long-term health.

The Medical Research Council estimates that as many as 300,000 employees in the UK suffer from HAVS and more than one million people are exposed to vibrations above safe levels set by the Health & Safety Executive’s Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. This legislation states that employers must protect employees from vibration exposure and take action to lower the risks of HAVS exposure through an ongoing monitoring system.

The financial penalties facing employers that ignore the risks often encourage them to explore alternative ways of doing things, that don’t require the use of vibrating equipment, but if this isn’t possible there are lots of precautions to reduce the risks of HAVS.

It is important to check all equipment and machinery regularly in order to reduce vibrations caused by general wear. Employees should additionally take regular breaks and they can even encourage blood circulation and reduce vibration by wearing certain protective equipment such as specially designed gloves and warm clothing.

An effective monitoring system should also be introduced and nowadays there are lots of digital and real-time systems that can be used to provide both employers and employees with accurate data about current exposure levels.

Dominic Slingsby is managing director at Slingsby

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