Why Companies Should Consider Technology To Reduce Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome

a timber worker using a chainsaw

With there being no cure for hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) - plus companies and local authorities shelling out millions of pounds each year for personal injury claims - new technology is offering a constructive solution.

Up to two million people in the UK are in danger of irreversible injury caused by heavy power tools.

Vibration white finger (VWF) and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) are collectively referred to as HAVS - a secondary form of Raynaud's syndrome.

An incurable and disabling condition, it is caused by prolonged exposure to vibrating tools which cause tingling or numbness in the upper limbs.

Overexposure to vibration can lead to painful and debilitating injuries affecting the blood vessels, nerves, joints and muscles.

In extreme cases, victims can lose their fingers – but they also report symptoms such as loss of sensation and touch, reduced hand grip, attacks of whitening (blanching) on the fingers when exposed to cold, and bone cysts.

But despite the implications, the vast majority of companies across the UK are failing to protect workers with preventative measures.

Despite new sentencing guidelines and the UK court's zero-tolerance for companies found to be in breach of health and safety legislation - to the tune of £10million for large companies, a recent study by the UK's largest construction group, the Building Safety Group, found a 42 percent increase in the number of hand-arm vibration non-compliances last year alone.

Non-compliance means a company is failing to comply with the Control of Vibration at Work and Noise at Work Regulations.

Paul Kimpton, managing director at the Building Safety Group, said: "Everyone controlling construction site work has health, and not just safety responsibilities.

"Checking working conditions are healthy before work begins is essential for safeguarding against the too often devastating impact of illnesses related to occupational health.

"This, of course, requires careful planning and organisation beginning with the implementation of health surveillance to monitor workers who are exposed to risks such as HAVS and noise.

"So it is critical companies regularly review their systems and procedures to ensure they are compliant with UK legislation and their workforces are protected."

HAVS compensation claims on the rise

According to Sam Nicholson, a work injury compensation specialist and senior partner at Mellor Hargreaves Solicitors, hand-arm vibration syndrome, and more specifically Vibration white finger, are becoming increasingly common work injuries, with thousands of workers affected every year. 

"The condition is extremely uncomfortable and often painful and extremely uncomfortable medical condition that can have a huge impact on the everyday lives of those affected by it.

"We are seeing a steady increase in the number of claims every year from employees across a number of industries, not just the heavy industrial industries, such as coal-mining and steel work like we did in the past.

"Organisations need to regularly review their procedures and systems to protect their workforce and ensure they are compliant with UK legislation, especially with the introduction of the sentencing guidelines for health and safety offenses which came into force in the UK early last year."

Technology can reduce the guesswork

When Edinburgh-based company Reactec launched HAVWEAR in 2016, it was done so with the aim of removing the guesswork from calculating employee’s exposure to vibration.

Hailed as a groundbreaking piece of wearable kit, the vibration dosimeter technology is worn on the user’s wrist to indicate the real-time risk.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states employers are legally responsible to establish whether work-based activities are likely to exceed safe limits of vibration as well as check daily trigger time – how long they are exposed for.

The HSE adds that employees are ‘unlikely to be able to provide this information very accurately themselves’.

In an interview with the Scotsman newspaper, Reactec’s chief executive Jacqui McLaughlin spoke out about employers wrongfully relying on staff to ‘recall and accurately report’ the equipment they have used, and the duration.

She said: "All of that is at best vague and is really just window-dressing the issue.

"If you don’t have the real data, you are doing things on the basis of guesswork."

Since its inception, Reactec has assisted more than 60 UK local authorities effectively deploy digital monitoring, saving companies time and money.

The other benefits it says are increased protection against legal claims, better protection for workers and helping to support the current regulations.

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