Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, or HAVS, is a condition caused by repeated regular exposure to vibration from hand-held tools, such as sanders, grinders, hammer drills, chain saws and breakers. It can affect the nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints of the hand, wrist and arms. The effects of this can be permanent and disabling and can make everyday life and work difficult.
HAVS can affect your hands, wrists and arms. Symptoms can include numbness and tingling, or pins and needles, in your fingers. Fingertips may also go white in wet or cold weather conditions. Other symptoms include aches and pains in your fingers, hands and wrists, noticing a reduced strength in your hands, not being able to feel things with your fingers and having problems with fine work, such as picking up small objects or doing up buttons.
It is important to remember that some individuals may be affected sooner than others.
There are a few things that you can do to reduce your exposure to vibration:
- Use the right tool for each job and use the tool in the right way
- Make sure tools are in good working order and have been maintained and/or repaired before use. Older equipment that is not well maintained may increase your exposure to vibration
- Know how much vibration you can safely be exposed to in any one shift and don’t go over your limits
- Do other jobs that don’t involve using vibrating tools to reduce exposure
- Keep your hands warm and dry, especially in cold and wet weather conditions. This improves circulation, encouraging blood flow to your hands and fingers
- If you are a smoker, try to cut down or stop smoking as it reduces blood flow to your fingers
- Health surveillance appointments are not optional – you must take part every year. Let your manager know if you think you are due an assessment
If you do have any concerns, tell your line manager as soon as you notice a problem.
At Network Rail we do not consider the use of ‘anti-vibration’ gloves to be beneficial as there is no evidence to suggest that the gloves are able to reduce the amount of exposure to a person.
If you are diagnosed with HAVS, you can expect to receive information about your diagnosis and how it will affect you at work. The advice that will be given by occupational health to you and your line manager will be determined by the severity of the disease, how far it has progressed and the nature of the tasks you carry out at work. In many cases, people can continue to use vibrating tools, whereas in others it may be advise to reduce exposure to vibration.
For some people, the occupational health physician may advise that they should no longer be exposed to vibration. Being removed from exposure to vibration depends on lots of factors, which are all considered so that your health is protected as well as it possibly can be.
If you continue to use vibrating tools (even at reduced exposure levels) you will still be expected to continue to attend health surveillance appointments in occupational health to ensure that your symptoms aren’t worsening. You should always report any change in your symptoms to your line manager as soon as possible, so that occupational health advice can be sought. For more information on occupational health visit our page with their contact details.
In addition, you should continue with other control measures that have been put in place for you, like keeping under the vibration exposure limits and wearing hand gloves in cold weather conditions.
Health surveillance is used to detect any effects of using vibrating tools as early as possible. It gives each employee the opportunity to discuss any concerns that they have with a healthcare professional who can provide advice. In doing so, health surveillance helps protect employee’s health by identifying health concerns and advising appropriate action.
Each year you will be asked to complete a paper-based questionnaire or attend a face to face assessment with a nurse or doctor. If you use vibrating tools on a regular basis, health surveillance is not optional – you must take part. There is legislation which governs the management of vibration at work which health surveillance is a part of.
Following each assessment, appropriate workplace advice will be given; including advice on how to prevent any symptoms getting worse, considering activities both at home and at work.
You should remember that if you do have any concerns you should tell your line manager as soon as possible, so that they can refer you for help and guidance from Occupational Health. Early intervention is best to protect your hands.
Network Rail has a duty of care to provide information and guidance regarding the equipment it provides so that its employees health can be considered. The equipment noise and vibration datasheet (please see attachments) contains vibration information for plant used on Network Rail managed infrastructure that presents a Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) risk. Further information on this datasheet can be found on the HAVS manager support page.