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Musculoskeletal Disorders

 

The information on this page is aimed mainly at workers who work with vibrating
machinery or hand held power tools...

Hand arm vibration HSE advice
  • You could be risking damage to nerves, blood vessels and joints of the hand, wrist and arm if you work regularly with hand-held or hand-guided power tools for more than a few hours each day.
  • Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) caused by exposure to vibration at work is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent.
  • The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 were introduced to better protect workers from vibration at work and came into force in July 2005.

Am I at risk?

You are at risk if you regularly use hand-held or handguided power tools and machines such as:

  • Concrete breakers, concrete pokers;
  • Sanders, grinders, disc cutters;
  • Hammer drills;
  • Chipping hammers;
  • Chainsaws, brush cutters, hedge trimmers,
  • Powered mowers;
  • Scabblers or needle guns.

You are also at risk if you hold workpieces, which vibrate while being processed by powered machinery such as pedestal grinders. You are particularly at risk if you regularly operate:

  • Hammer action tools for more than about 15 minutes per day; or
  • Some rotary and other action tools for more than about one hour per day. As you are likely to be above the exposure action value set out in the regulations.

What are the early signs and symptoms to look out for?

  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers (which can cause sleep disturbance).
  • Not being able to feel things with your fingers.
  • Loss of strength in your hands (you may be less able to pick up or hold heavy objects).
  • In the cold and wet, the tips of your fingers going white then red and being painful on recovery (vibration white finger).

If you continue to use high-vibration tools these symptoms will probably get worse, for example:

  • The numbness in your hands could become permanent and you won't be able to feel things at all;
  • You will have difficulty picking up small objects such as screws or nails;
  • The vibration white finger could happen more frequently and affect more of your fingers

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/

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Whole Body Vibration

Employers have to take action to prevent risk from exposure to vibration. They need to consider whether there are other ways or machines that would eliminate the exposure to the vibration, especially where large shocks and jolts are involved. If this isn’t possible the exposure should be reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable. This includes:

  • introducing control measures whenever your employees' daily exposure to vibration is likely to exceed the exposure action value, and
  • not exposing your employees above the exposure limit value.

Risk is likely to be low for exposures at or just above the exposure action value while exposures closer to the exposure limit value will need more control.

Some controls may take time to put in place, particularly where machines must be replaced or new ways of doing things have to be developed. This would normally require an action plan. The plan should state clearly which managers, supervisors and employees are responsible for its delivery and by when. It should also include the need to test the controls.

The general principles of preventing Whole-body vibration

If employers comply with the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 and follow HSE’s guidance, it will help them manage the risk of back pain resulting from Whole-Body Vibration. Also some of the requirements may be relatively straightforward and easy to implement, e.g. filling in potholes on unmade roads.

These include:

  • avoiding risks;
  • evaluating the risks which cannot be avoided;
  • combating the risks at source;
  • adapting the work to the individual, especially with regards to the design of workplaces, the choice of work equipment and the choice of working methods;
    adapting to technical progress;
  • replacing any dangerous vehicles with non-dangerous vehicles;
  • developing a prevention policy which covers technology, organisation of work, working conditions and the influence of factors relating to the working environment;
  • giving appropriate instructions to employees.

Control measures

These include:

  • introducing working methods which eliminate or reduce exposure, e.g. minimising the transport of goods or materials or to replace manned with unmanned machines such as remotely controlled conveyors;
  • choosing work equipment of appropriate ergonomic design, i.e. the choice of vehicle can be an important means of reducing exposure to vibration, through:
  • the difference in vibration emissions of the vehicle itself (although this needs to be considered alongside choosing the most appropriate vehicle for the task);
  • visibility should be such that the machine can be operated without stretching and twisting;
  • it should be easy to get in and out of the machine by using handholds and footholds so that the temptation to climb or jump is minimised;
  • access to manually loaded areas should be unimpeded by the machinery structure and involve minimal lifting, and
  • if the machine cab is the sole workplace of the machine operator, including break time, it should have sufficient space and facilities for rest periods.
  • considering the choice of seat (including suspension seats) and the choice of tyres, and
  • regular maintenance of vehicles (including their seats and suspension) and maintenance of unmade roads and ground conditions throughout sites to suit the machines that use them will greatly reduce shocks and jolts.
  • designing the layout of workplace sites to reduce the need to transport materials, and so reduce the WBV exposure of drivers/operators;
  • providing suitable and sufficient information and training for employees;
  • limiting the duration and magnitude of exposure - when all reasonably practicable steps have been taken to reduce the vibration magnitude, and taking account of the fact that there is no personal protective equipment available for WBV, the final resort for compliance with the exposure limit value is to limit the duration of exposure;
  • ensuring the work schedules have adequate rest periods - a recommended precautionary measure is to take a short break between operating mobile machinery and manual handling of materials, to give tired muscles time to recover before handling heavy loads,
  • protecting employees from cold and damp - cold exposure may accelerate the onset or worsen the severity of back pain. It is good practice to ensure that those working in the cold are provided with warm, and (if necessary) waterproof clothing.
  • reducing exposure below the exposure limit value - you must not permit an employee to be exposed above the exposure limit value. Your programme of measures must be designed to prevent this level of exposure. If you find the exposure limit value is being exceeded, you must immediately take action to reduce exposure and to identify the reason for overexposure.

The exposure limit

Employers should not consider reduction below the exposure limit value to be a target – you must reduce exposure as low as you reasonably can. This may mean reducing the time for which the employee uses the machine each day, e.g. spreading that particular task over several days or sharing it between two or more employees (job rotation).

Occasional exposures above the exposure limit value (weekly averaging of exposure)

On very limited occasions, employers are allowed to average exposures over a week rather than over a day, but only in particular circumstances. This is primarily designed for where workers exceptionally need to carry out work causing uncommonly high vibration exposure in a single day, e.g. for emergency work. The main conditions are:

  • that the person's exposure is usually below the exposure action value;
  • that the risk is less than if the employee were exposed at the exposure limit value for the week.

This flexibility does not remove the duty on the employer to reduce the exposure so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employees whose health is likely to be particularly at risk

Extra care will be needed to ensure that the exposure of those who are particularly sensitive to WBV is kept to a minimum, that they are given and take account of adequate information, instruction and training, and that symptoms of back pain are monitored.

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/

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