Dacorum Borough Council has been prosecuted after seven of its workers developed hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) following the excessive use of power tools during the course of their work activities. HAVS is a debilitating and painful condition which is preventable, but once the damage is done the effects are permanent. The council reported the cases in 2015 and 2016 to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in relation to the seven employees who were grounds maintenance and street care workers. Dacorum Borough Council was fined £100,000 and was ordered to pay costs of just over £28,672.
The HSE investigated the cases of ill health, and found that the council had failed in its duty to identify the risks from hand-arm vibration in relation to the power tools used, and had failed to properly plan the work and train workers on the risks involved in relation to their health. It had not put sufficient health surveillance in place, and had not limited the workers’ exposure to vibration.
5 tips to help prevent HAVS within your workforce:
- Do a risk assessment to identify the hazards associated with vibration in relation to the hand tools that your workers use – both as individuals and as groups within the workforce. Look at the jobs they do on a frequent basis, and also those less frequently, and the tools that are used and how they are used.
- Determine which of your hand tools emit vibration. Consider what control measures are needed to preferably remove, or if that is not possible, reduce the vibration risk. This might include introducing maximum time limits for each tool’s use each day by an individual, or it might involve fitting vibration dampeners to the tools. Check the manufacturer’s instructions and guidance for information about the suitability of this last option.
- Check all of your vibrating hand tools regularly to make sure they are in good condition. Blunt blades and tool bits require extra pressure to be applied by the worker, which is to be avoided. Make sure workers ‘let the tool do the work’.
- Put a system of health surveillance in place for those potentially at risk of ill-health from hand-arm vibration.
- Give information to workers about the symptoms they should look out for, such as finger numbness or whiteness, pain and any loss of grip. Make sure they know who to report any symptoms to.
Preventing HAVS is easily done, if the right controls are put in place in time. Check today that your workers are protected, and that their use of hand-held power tools is monitored and carefully planned.