Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) or Hand Arm Syndrome is permanent damage to the nerves, blood vessels, or joints in the hand due to the use of vibrating hand tools. If your business regularly relies on the use of vibrating hand tools like sanders or hammer drills, your staff could be at risk of HAVS.
As a business, you have a legal and ethical obligation to conduct workplace health assessments (health surveillance) to identify the risk of HAVS for any employees that use vibrating tools at work. Here’s how HAVS surveillance can protect your staff and your business.
Why Is HAVS Such A Risk To My Employees?
Over 2 million workers are at risk of developing Hand Arm Syndrome in the UK, with 300,000 individuals currently experiencing advanced symptoms. HAVS can severely impact the affected person’s quality of life, with just some of the below factors a risk for those with the condition.
Individuals with Hand Arm Syndrome can experience muscle fatigue and weakness, resulting in reduced mobility for the affected hand or arm. This can result in difficulty completing simple tasks like doing up a jacket or lifting household items.
Loss Of Job
Hand Arm Syndrome can cause damage to the hands or the arms, which might impact a worker’s ability to do certain tasks. Many individuals have the condition as a direct result of using vibratory hand tools in their daily jobs. Reduced mobility in your hands or arms might mean that individuals can no longer complete their core work activities.
Persistent use of vibrational hand tools in work can lead to permanent disability. Vibration White Finger (VWF) is a condition that affects the blood supply to the fingers. The resulting white digits are what gave the condition its name. The condition also causes numbness in the joints, which can impact the individual’s ability to pick up or handle small objects.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is also a potential condition caused by HAVS. The condition puts pressure on the nerves in your hand or wrist, causing tingling, numbness and pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome can be a long-term or permanent condition depending on its severity.
Poor Mental Health
Studies show that those with conditions like carpal tunnel are at an increased risk of depression. This can be caused by factors like stresses related to work, the pain caused by CTS, or the loss of sleep or reduced quality of life leading to depressive episodes.
Chronic pain is any persistent pain that lasts for over 12 months. As HAVS can often be permanent or long-term, chronic pain is often a side effect of the condition. This can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to complete daily tasks.
Why Is HAVS A Risk To My Business?
Hand Arm Syndrome is a significant risk to your worker’s health, career, and finances. It can also pose a significant threat to your business. Just some of the risks and resulting financial penalties of missing or ignoring the outcomes of HAVS health surveillance can be found below.
You have a legal obligation to conduct health surveillance when your employees are at risk. If you don’t, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), may fine you if you are found to have not conducted sufficient health surveillance. The HSE is the UK’s national regulatory body for laws relating to workplace safety.
Some of the recent HSE fines and penalties are:
- The HSE recently fined Lancashire County Council over £50,000 for inadequate HAVS surveillance and risk assessment.
- Wrexham County Council was fined £150,000 for not acting on the outcomes of their Hand Arm Syndrome surveillance.
- Places for Peoples Homes Limited was fined £600,000 for not conducting adequate HAVS risk assessments between 2009 and 2014.
Loss Of Reputation
It’s not just financial penalties, but huge reputational losses that your business could face if your workers get Hand Arm Syndrome. If you are a private business, the resulting legal and financial pressures of an HSE fine could irreparably damage your company. Your own personal reputation will also suffer, significantly hindering your future career prospects.
Research supports that workers with HAVS-related conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome may be off work for as long as 3.6 years. Those severely impacted by the condition may be completely unable to work, resulting in long-term employee absences or even staff losses. The resulting employee absences can have a significant impact on your construction projects and contractual obligations to clients.
How Can I Protect My Business With HAVS Health Surveillance?
Hiring a professional health surveillance company like k2a can help ensure your HAVS-related health surveillance is carried out by qualified professionals. Health surveillance is a series of health checks and guidelines laid out by the HSE. The regulations help to protect employees and businesses that are exposed to certain risks in a working environment. Risk factors can range from exposure to radiation, fumes, dust, or long-term injuries caused by using equipment in the workplace.
How Do I Know If I Need HAVS Surveillance?
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 outline the specific instances where a company would require HAVS surveillance. If your employees use hand tools over the exposure action and limit values (EAV/ ELV), then you will need to conduct a HAVS risk assessment.
The EAV for the daily use of hand tools is 2.5 m/s² A(8), while the ELV is 5 m/s² A(8). The EAV is the average daily use threshold, while the ELV is the maximum daily use a worker should be exposed to. If you aren’t sure whether your employees are above these values, you should seek the help of a qualified health surveillance team immediately.
What Is Included With HAVS Surveillance?
HAVS surveillance is a comprehensive risk assessment process that needs to be carried out by a qualified HAVS assessor like k2A. Some of the steps of HAVS surveillance include:
Employee Health Education
Research shows that health education can increase wages by as much as 17% over 20 years, and add up to 2 years to an individual’s life. Employee health education can include awareness of how to use hand tools correctly, as well as the risks of HAVS due to incorrect usage.
Employees can be asked a series of screening questions to establish:
- Their level of awareness around the risk of HAVS and correct equipment usage
- Whether they experience any of the symptoms of HAVS
- How at risk they are of developing the condition
The outcome of the questionnaire might establish preventative measures, workplace improvements, or at-risk employees. There are both initial questionnaires and annual questions that can be asked for HAVS surveillance (which form Tier I and Tier II of the initial health assessment).
Employee Discussion & Tests
A K2A qualified assessor will carry out an assessment of your employees to determine whether they are at risk of HAVS. They will discuss the employee’s family and personal medical history, their social activities, and if they have any symptoms of Hand Arm Syndrome. This forms Tier 3 of the HAVS health surveillance.
Assessment By An Occupational Therapist
If an employee is deemed at high risk or shows any of the symptoms of HAVS, they will be reviewed and may be diagnosed by an occupational therapist. (Tier 4). They will recommend improvements and disclose whether the employee is fit to work, and may make a secondary referral to an appropriate specialist (Tier 5).
What If One Of My Employees Has HAVS?
The key benefit of HAVS surveillance is that you can protect your staff from any long-term damage caused by Hand Arm Syndrome. The earlier you undertake the risk assessments, the more minimal the impact caused by HAVS. If one of your employees has Hand Arm Syndrome, you have a legal responsibility to reduce the risk of disability due to the use of hand tools in the workplace.
Some individuals may be more at risk of the condition than others. Your duty as an employee is to ensure these individuals are trained on the appropriate use of hand tools. They should be fit to work, and not develop a permanent disability as a direct result of workplace negligence.
What Does K2 Associates HAVS Surveillance Look Like?
K2A HAVS surveillance provides:
- Comprehensive employee education on HAVS and the use of hand tools
- Screening questionnaires and annual surveys to ensure employee understanding
- A thorough risk assessment and health surveillance from Tier 1 through to Tier 5
- An individual employee COSHH assessment and record-keeping (with employee consent)
- Comprehensive data management and reporting tailored to your business
- A dedicated qualified person to carry out the Tier 3 assessments and appropriate training
With K2A on your side as your health assessment consultant, you will protect your employees and your business from the health, financial and legal risks posed by Hand Arm Syndrome. Contact us today for comprehensive and quality advice on HAVS surveillance.