WHAT IS HAVS?
Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is the name for a collection of debilitating conditions associated with the continuous use of hand-held power tools and industrial equipment. The violent vibrations from such machinery can cause damage to nerves, bones, tendons, muscles and blood vessels, leading to chronic ailments such as carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS) and vibration white finger (VWF).
HAVS can be categorised by numbness in fingers (nerves), loss of dexterity (muscles), colour change (blood vessels). The fingers can turn white, giving the condition its name. In extreme cases, the fingers can be lost entirely. The symptoms of HAVS were first recognised by Dr. Giovanni Lorgia in 1911, who noticed a link between worsening symptoms and cold weather.
Once developed, HAVS can lead to employees having to take time off as sick leave or, in a worst-case scenario, leave their employment due to pain, tingling or loss of feeling or strength. Once the damage is done it is irreversible. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that more than two million people are at risk from HAVS. Those industries where there is a higher risk of HAVS include: foundries, heavy steel fabrication and construction.
Fortunately, latest figures from the HSE show that occurrences of both CTS and VWF are in decline, with only 635 new disability benefit cases for VWF in 2012.
This is in part due to the introduction of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, which sets vibration exposure limits, along with greater awareness of HAVS and how to prevent it.
REDUCING THE RISK OF HAVS
These conditions are exacerbated in cold, wet conditions and will only get worse if workers are continually exposed. Employers are responsible for protecting their staff from these ailments.
Where possible, the first line of defence against HAVS is to completely avoid having to physically handle equipment that vibrates powerfully. However, in many cases this is not feasible, meaning workers and their managers need to take mitigating steps. Cost effective and simple measures include:
- Using tools with reduced vibration
- Taking regular breaks
- Limiting length of time using the tools
- Keep warm - choose a dexterous insulated glove that allows good unrestricted movement of the fingers as it aids blood circulation
Prevention is better than cure. Don't wait until hands are cold before donning insulated gloves - it’s easier to retain heat than build heat back up when the body and hands are already cooling.
WHAT ABOUT SAFETY GLOVES?
Some companies do offer what they call ‘anti-vibration’ gloves, but these provide little protection to the wearer against HAVS. In fact the HSE warns that:
...[anti-vibration gloves] are not particularly effective at reducing the frequency-weighted vibration associated with risk of HAVS and they can increase the vibration at some frequencies.
Aside from potentially increasing vibrations, gloves labelled ‘anti-vibration’ can also do more harm than good by lulling the wearer into a false sense of security. The only way gloves can help prevent HAVS is by keeping hands warm as part of a wider mitigation programme. To work effectively, these gloves must fit well and not impede the employee in the tasks that they are performing or be a risk of becoming caught in machinery.
Gloves designed to be used in the cold and wet, such as the TG180 can protect against all the elements that outdoor workers can come up against in the colder months.
For more information on how to prevent HAVS, contact Traffi here.