Vibration in construction work

Vibration in construction work

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Construction workers are at high risk of ill-health from using vibrating work tools. When using these tools vibration is transmitted into the worker’s hands and arms – causing hand-arm vibration.

Regular hand-arm vibration can result in a number of conditions collectively known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). Every year there are about 3,000 new claims for Industrial Injury Disablement Benefit due to health conditions that have developed as a consequence of vibration.

Who is at risk?

Construction workers who regularly:

  • Operate hand-held or hand-guided power-tools or 
  • Hold materials that are processed by a machine 

are at risk of developing vibration related conditions. 

Such machines and tools include:

  • Concrete breakers, pokers and compactors
  • Sanders, grinders and disc cutters 
  • Hammer drills 
  • Chipping hammers
  • Chainsaws ​
  • Scabblers or needle guns.

Worker who regularly operate:

  • Hammer action tools for more than about 15 minutes per day; or 
  • Some rotary and other action tools for more than about one hour per day 

are at severe risk, as they are likely to be above the exposure levels set out in the regulations on vibration exposure.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hand-arm vibration exposure can appear a few months after exposure but it can also take years for them to develop.

The symptoms include:

  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers
  • Loss of sensation (not being able to feel things properly)
  • Loss of strength in the hands 
  • Fingers going white (blanching) and then become red and painful on recovery (particularly in cold and wet weather).

The symptoms are likely to get worse with repeated exposure and can lead to permanent conditions. 

Effects

The effects developing from these symptoms can include:

  • Reduced grip strength, which might affect the ability to work safely
  • Reduced ability to work in cold or damp conditions, which is likely to trigger a painful finger blanching attack
  • Inability to do fine-tuned work (eg assembling small components) or everyday tasks (eg fastening buttons).

The most well-known diseases following exposure to vibration include Vibration White Finger (VWF) and vibration-related Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).

Vibration White Finger is a disorder of the blood supply to the fingers and hand. It can lead to the permanent loss of sensation in the fingers and increasingly frequent painful attacks. In extreme cases the sufferer may lose fingers - this is more likely when the worker uses vibrating machinery at very low temperatures. VWF is the most commonly prescribed disease under the Industrial Injuries Disability Benefit scheme for the last ten years.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is an entrapment or compression of nerves in the wrist.

What your employer must do

Every employer has a duty to protect its workers from risks to health and safety, including from risks of vibration. Employers need to plan and implement measures to reduce this risk. They have to assess the risk to health from vibration, find out what levels of vibration workers are exposed to and reduce the level of vibration as far as possible.

What you can do

In addition to the employer’s duties there are a number of ways in which you can help to reduce the vibration level you are exposed to. 
 

  • Ask your employer if the job could be done without using vibrating tools and machines. 
  • Ask to use suitable low-vibration tools. 
  • Always use the right tool for each job. 
  • Before using a tool make sure it has been properly maintained and repaired to avoid increased vibration caused by faults or general wear. 
  • Make sure cutting tools are kept sharp so that they remain efficient. 
  • Reduce the amount of time you use a tool in one go, by doing other jobs in between. 
  • Store tools so that they do not have very cold handles when next used.
  • Encourage good blood circulation by keeping warm and dry (when necessary, wear gloves, etc).
  • Massage and exercise your fingers during work breaks.

 Get help early

  • Report any symptoms promptly to your employer and the person who does your health checks.
  • Ask your UCATT Safety Rep or Regional Office for advice and support, including whether it is possible to seek compensation.

Further information:

HSE Website: Vibration at Work: www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/

TUC Website: www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/noiseandvibration.cfm

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