12 November 2019

Build UK Partner B&CE advice on HSE update to guidance on controlling the risks of vibration at work

Build UK partner B&CE are calling on construction employers to make sure they’re doing everything they can to prevent debilitating conditions associated with vibrating hand-held power tools.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently updated its guidance on controlling the risks of vibration at work. This serves as a timely reminder of the importance of acting before it’s too late to look after people’s health-at-work, also known as occupational health.

Employers have a legal duty to look after their employees’ health-at-work, which includes controlling risks and preventing diseases such as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). These conditions can affect employees’ abilities to do tasks at work.

HAVS can be caused by excessive use of hand-held tools such as drills, breakers and grinders. Prevention is critical. It can take up to 10 years to develop but once the condition develops, it can’t be reversed so it’s crucial that employers and workers know what to look out for.

Symptoms of HAVS include:

  • tingling and numbness in the fingers
  • whitening (blanching) in the fingers, becoming red and painful when the blood flow recovers
  • loss of dexterity
  • muscle, bone and joint problems in the hands, wrists, arms or shoulders.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) can also be caused by exposure to vibration. CTS is a painful condition caused by a major nerve being compressed in the wrist. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, pain and weakness in the affected hand, which is often worse at night.

What do employers need to know?

The updated HSE guidance, a 2nd edition of L140, details what employers must do to comply with the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. There have been minor changes to the guidance – such as altering the layout to emphasise control of exposure and removing the requirement for people to be automatically assessed by a HAVS qualified occupational health nurse every 3 years if they have no symptoms – but no changes to HSE’s policy.

The key is to reduce the risks from vibration to the lowest level possible. Employers must:

  • carry out a risk assessment to measure or estimate their employees’ vibration exposure
  • control this exposure
  • make sure employees have the correct information and training
  • provide health assessments to make sure symptoms are spotted as early as possible.

Both HAVS and vibration-induced CTS are reportable under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).

Pippa Dolman, Occupational Health Manager at B&CE, said: “The laws and regulations around occupational health can be complicated but employers shouldn’t be put off. Looking after people’s health-at-work brings huge benefits to both business and society beyond the obvious importance of individuals’ wellbeing. I’d urge construction employers involved with vibrating power tools to make sure they’re up to speed with this updated guidance to prevent serious hand health problems.”

B&CE, provider of The People’s Pension, believes everyone working in construction has the right to a healthy working life and future, and is working with industry and policymakers to raise awareness of the issues.

Find out more about the risks of vibrating hand-held power tools and how to reduce them.