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).
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 and 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
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
- Keeping the body warm if working in cold conditions to improve blood circulation and reduce damage
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.
Using thermal liners, such as TG105 TraffiTherm, under a protective glove or thermal gloves, can prevent workers hands from getting cold and injured.
For more information on how to prevent HAVS, contact TraffiGlove here.