the real cost of hand arm vibration (hav) exposure
The Real Cost of Hand Arm Vibration (HAV) Exposure
What are the health effects of HAV exposure?
To understand the health implications of HAV exposure we must understand how this hazard is created in the first place. The vibrations are emitted to a persons and hand and/ or arm via power tools such as drills, grinders, jack hammers, riveters or impact wrenches.
Regular long-term exposure to these tools can disrupt a person’s circulation in their hand and forearm, and cause damage to nerves, tendons, muscles, bones and hand and arm joints.
These conditions are collectively known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) and include:
Carpal tunnel syndrome – a disorder of the hand and arm which may involve tingling, numbness, pain and weakness in parts of the hand.
Musculoskeletal disorders – muscular and vascular disorders like weakness, pain and stiffness in the joints of the hands and arms and little or no grip strength.
Vibration white finger (Raynaud’s phenomenon) – a sudden constriction of the blood vessels which slows blood flow to the extremities, most often fingers and toes. The skin will change in colour, usually accompanied by discomfort like pain, tingling and numbness. Severe cases can result in complete loss of touch sensation and manipulative dexterity which can interfere with work and increase the risk of acute injuries due to incidents.
Dupuytrens contracture – fingers becoming permanently curled towards the palm and reduced grip strength.
Research shows that these conditions of Hand Arm Vibration are preventable but once they have occurred the damage is permanent.
Not just a health hazard
Research conducted by our partners Reactec, specialists in vibration management in the UK, reports HAVS is estimated to be costing Britain as much as £4.92 billion, split between individuals with the disorder, employers and government. From research issued in 2011/2012 around 300,000 employees in the UK were estimated to have advanced symptoms of HAVS (HSE).
Based on those figures the estimated costs of HAVS to employers is around £1.32 billion which comprises sick pay payments, insurance premiums, production disturbance costs and administrative and legal costs.
The 2008 National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance (NHEWS) concluded that around 24% of Australian workers were exposed to vibration in the workplace, of which 43% of exposure was to HAV, 38% to WBV (Whole Body Vibration), and 17% to both. These statistics suggest that workers exposed specifically to hand arm vibration syndrome is a high-risk probability.
What are the limits?
As outlined in Safe Work Australia, exposure to HAV should be evaluated using the method in AS ISO 5349.1-2013: Mechanical vibration – Measurement and evaluation of human exposure to hand-transmitted vibration. While there is no set standard for Australian workplace exposure for HAV, it is important to make a comparison to an accepted standard in order to work out how much HAV exposure is likely to pose a risk. This can be done using the daily vibration exposure.
It is understood that the European Union has established a widely used and accepted exposure action value and exposure limit value for HAV, and that this method should form the benchmark when assessing the risk.