One of the less known and less addressed hazards on a construction site is that stemming from the use of tools, equipment and machines that can cause injury from the vibration of the equipment.
Employers have a responsibility to assess the risk of injury from vibrating power tools and to take all necessary action to eliminate the risk if possible. If not they should attempt to reduce the risk as much as possible to minimise the likelihood of worker injury.
Although this is one of the risks that may not be taken as seriously because it doesn’t maim or kill anybody, exposure to hand-arm vibration can cause serious injury which may affect an employee’s ability to work.
Workers need to be informed, instructed and adequately trained especially if they are at risk. Workers need to know the symptoms of injury and what they need to do for their own protection.
Workers should understand what activities pose the risk of hand-arm vibration being transmitted. This includes workers operating hand-held power tools such as road workers operating jack hammers, workers using hand guided equipment such as a vibrating compactor or whilst holding materials being processed by a machine.
Workers who are exposed are likely to suffer permanent harm if they have regular contact with a vibrating tool.
The risk involved with hand-arm vibration is that it can cause a range of conditions called hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). There are also other diseases such as carpal tunnel syndrome and white finger which workers can sustain.
Image source: www.nems.co.uk
A worker’s hand who is suffering from White Finger
Some of the symptoms can appear after a few months of exposure or it may take years to develop. With regular or repeated exposure, workers can suffer permanent damage and disfigurements which can hinder their ability to work thereby affecting their ability to earn a living.
Signs to look out for:
- tingling and/or numbness in the fingers
- inability to feel things properly
- loss of strength in the hands
- The most obvious sign is fingers going white (blanching) and becoming red and painful on recovery, particularly in cold and wet conditions – usually this starts on the finger tips.
These symptoms can be very serious and the effects may include, pain, distress, disturbed sleep, inability to do certain everyday tasks, reduced ability to work in cold weather, cold weather triggers painful fingers and your gripping strength is decreased.
The workers that are most at risk include those involved in construction activities especially those who work with hand-held power tools and machinery a lot such as concrete breakers, sanders, grinders, hammer drills, chainsaws etc.
Similarly to other hazards on a construction site hand-arm vibration needs to be dealt with systematically. Firstly the hazards need to be identified and the risk associated with them needs to assessed. Once the risk is assessed, it should be eliminated if possible and if not practicable it needs to be minimised as much as possible. Even risks related to hand-arm vibration need to be controlled and managed and workers need to be trained on how to safely operate tools and equipment that present a risk, as to avoid injury and harm.