To HAVS or not to HAVS?

If you use or have used vibrating tools or machinery at work such as pneumatic drills, jackhammers or chainsaws, you may be one of the three million people estimated by the Health and Safety Executive to be at risk of developing symptoms of HAVS.

Employees who regularly use power tools may be at risk of developing a range of occupational issues related to the vibrating nature of many handheld power tools, collectively known as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome or HAVS.

The Thompson Group has many years’ experience in HAVS Assessment, the identification of HAVS risks and provision of solutions, to assist employers in protecting their employees and avoiding expensive HAVS claims. We offer extensive hand arm vibration risk assessment services.

What is Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome?

HAVS (formerly known as Vibration White Finger) will cause changes in an individual’s fingers and sometimes arms, after extensive use of handheld vibrating tools and equipment, over an extended period of time (ten years or more).

What Causes Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome?

Repeated use of vibrating tools such as drills, jack hammers saws, and pneumatic chisels over a long period of time can cause HAVS. Working on vibrating equipment or machinery with your hands in contact with them may also result in HAVS. Studies show that around 1 in 10 or workers in this kind of environment will develop HAVS.

How HAVS actually develops is not known for sure however, the microtrauma to muscles, nerves and blood vessels caused by repeated vibration is the likely culprit causing reduced function in these areas.

Hand arm Vibration Symptoms

The first things to be affected by extended periods of vibration are the nerves, so it is important to look out for the early signs. Change in sensation or numbness will be noted first, followed by a whitening of the fingers (known as Raynaud’s phenomenon). Later muscular aches and pains in the hands and arms will develop accompanied by weakened grip.

The white finger phenomenon comes in bouts and is triggered by cold weather or contact with something cold. The fingers will pass through a range of colours from white, to blue, then red.

Advice for Employers

The most important advice we can give employers is, prevention is far better and more cost effective than the alternative. There is no cure once the damage is done, just expensive and time-consuming compensation claims.

Here are a few steps that can be taken to avoid the problems associated with HAVS in the first place:

  • Train your employees on how to use tools to reduce the risks
  • Always ensure tools are well maintained and serviced regularly
  • Make sure your employees have the right tool for the job
  • Have your tools tested and categorised depending upon the level of vibration they produce

How we can Help

So, how can we help you through the HAVS regulation minefield? The short answer is completely differently to the next company with potential HAVS issues. Each and every company has a different inventory of tools and range of uses for those tools. For this reason, our HAVS experts will visit your company and review your operations before we make any recommendations.

We will than train your employees in the safe and correct use of the tools, as well as things they can do to reduce the risks like keeping hands warm and avoiding smoking. We will take control of your tool inventory to ensure they are all correctly serviced, tested, and categorised. We will tag all of your tools to ensure it is clear which vibration category they fall into and we will help you ensure the correct tool is selected for each and every job (an under power tool will require more force to perform, raising the risk of HAVS).

So, don’t worry, we can help you. Call us today to discuss your specific HAVS risks and solutions.

The evidence is that many HAVS assessments are seriously flawed, and that industry is storing up future problems despite the best of intentions. There is a minefield of opportunities for vibration risk management mistakes based on misinformation and lack of knowledge. At Thompsons, we have in-house experts that can lead you through the process, ensuring you are meeting current legislation.

HAV Risk Management Programme Checklist

The following is a step-by-step check list of the components of any effective HAV risk management programme that should be included in any risk assessment report. Contact us for more on any of the element(s) for which you need more information.

Create a vibrating tool/plant register

Always takes much longer and turns up many more tools than expected. Ensure there is sufficient information to define a tool and operation (“blue drill” is not sufficient!). At least make, model, accessory, the operation for which it is used and the material (metal, plastic, grass, scrub etc). Download and fill in our open-source HAV tool register and email to us to evaluate the assessment options for you (see below). Click here to download the free template HAV tool register.

HAV risk assess – do not measure unless you absolutely must

Surely everyone has already done this. The key HSE message is: “Don’t measure vibration unless you absolutely must”. Get a fast, very low-cost virtual assessment by email and use your resources to reduce risk instead.

Implement an effective HAV risk management programme

Include operational factors, working conditions, behaviour, ergonomics, symptom reporting systems etc. It does not include PPE as there is none.

Reduce vibration via tool maintenance and vibration control measures

Use HAVBase stats to evaluate which tools pose an increased risk as they wear to prioritise maintenance schedules. Increases in tool vibration from range from completely unaffected to extremely sensitive to tool condition. Retro-fit engineering modifications can substantially reduce vibration in some cases.

Hire / Buy low vibration tools

Base decisions on operational, productivity and ergonomic factors as well as levels of hand-arm vibration. Note: the common HAV traffic light system is based on manufacturers’ data that will often seriously underestimate risk.


As operator risk is very dependent on behaviour, training is an important risk management element – toolbox talks, management briefings and full HAV competency training as appropriate.

Health Surveillance

Introduce a programme for all workers likely to be exposed above the Exposure Action Value. This includes education, reporting systems, health checks and communication.

Audit the programme

Check you are implementing best practice for all the elements above, in practice, not just on paper. We often find the audit will show disconnects between theory and practice and risk management can be improved in parallel with significant cost savings.

The innovative low vibration handle developed by the INVC for a Dennis Mowers lawnmower, reduced operator exposure by two thirds without compromising mower control. This is a dramatic improvement that would allow operators to use the mower all day, without reaching the exposure value requiring action.