Understanding HAVS: The Importance of Early Detection and Testing 

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Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome is a serious and common problem (with over 300,000 people affected in the UK alone) that is the result of over-exposure to hand vibrations while using hand-held power tools. Even with this knowledge, there are millions of people at risk of developing HAVS because of the use of vibrating tools at their workplace. Thankfully, safeguards have been put in place to protect the workforce from unnecessary harm and permanent damage. 

What is HAVS Testing? 

Shaun from Principal Power Tools had this to say “HAVS testing helps identify and mitigate the risks of operating vibrating tools at work. Since HAVS affects the blood vessels and nerves in the hands, early symptoms of HAVS are detectable and with the right procedures and vibration control measures, damage and disability can be avoided.” 

These tests were mandated by the government when they passed the Control of Vibration at Work Regulation 2005, which required employers to implement health surveillance and vibration risk assessments to protect their employees. 

How to Spot Early Symptoms and Early Signs of HAVS (Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome) 

Tests are important to monitor the strength of the vibrations that workers are receiving through their tools at work. With this information, tool choices and risk management procedures can be put in place for specific tools and jobs as well as control of vibration measures. 

Spotting early-stage signs and symptoms of HAVS is another critical way to reduce the potential for permanent disability due to continued exposure to vibration. What are the early symptoms of HAVS? 

  • Your fingertips are numb or tingly and you have a hard time feeling anything with the tips of your fingers 
  • Lack of colour or white tips of the fingers, particularly when the weather gets cold. 
  • Pain in your hands and wrists, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome 
  • Lack of strength and inability to pick things up with your hands. 
  • Lack of grip strength when holding or trying to hold objects.

How To Reduce the Risk of HAVS 

Unfortunately, damage caused by vibrational tools is unlikely to be reversed, particularly nerve damage. There is a chance that vascular damage may be able to recover but the best course of action is to avoid any vibrational trauma if possible. How can this be done? 

    1. 1. Avoid or severely limit the use of vibrating tools whenever and wherever possible.
    1. 2. When the need for such tools is unavoidable, use them according to the manufacturer’s specifications, plan and arrange for breaks when using the tools and ensure that proper stretching and warm-ups are done before and after their use.
    1. 3. Vibrational tools should be maintained regularly to avoid the breakdown of components which often increases vibrational stress on the workers.
    1. 4. If possible, use a specialist to assess the vibrational frequency of the tools to ensure tools are not vibrating more than they should.
    1. 5. Workers should perform HAVS symptoms inspection on themselves regularly to determine if they are experiencing early-stage HAVS.
    1. 6. Lifestyle factors can also play a negative role in the development of HAVS and, where possible, habits like smoking should be avoided or reduced.

Testing and Awareness: The Best Deterrent to HAVS 

Workers and employers both should be vigilant to the dangers of HAVS. With the proper protocol and procedures in place, there is no reason why anyone should suffer the disability and pain that come with over-using vibrational tools at work.