Last week, the Building Safety Group (BSG) released figures on occupational hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) breaches, i.e. conduct which would likely be found in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, such as failing to put in place and monitor suitable risk control measures and failing to put in place a suitable system of health surveillance.[i]
HAVS is an umbrella term for symptoms affecting the hands and upper limbs, such as:
- Blanching/pain/cold sensations in cold temperatures and redness/pain on recovery;
- Tingling and loss of sensation (numbness);[ii]
- Loss of light tough;
- Loss of grip strength; and
- Bone cysts in fingers and wrists.[iii]
The symptoms are caused by repetitive exposure to excessive use of hand-held, or hand guided power tools and machinery, which destroy blood vessels and cause nerve damage in the relevant musculoskeletal systems.[iv]
Based on 42,000 independent construction site inspections undertaken throughout 2018, BSG revealed that the number of recorded HAVS breaches has increased by a third, compared to recorded breaches in 2017.
Between 2008 and 2017, there were over 7,000 claims for HAVS under Prescribed Disease A11 (established in 1985) of the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) scheme.[v]
Managing Director of BSG, Paul Kimpton, has urged employers to heed the advice of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE):
‘The HSE advises that the employer carries out a period of monitoring to understand how long workers use particular tools in a typical day or week. Once you know enough about the work to say what the exposure is likely to be and whether it is likely to exceed either the ‘Exposure Action’ or ‘Exposure Limit Value’, focus can shift to investigating, as well as taking practical steps to reduce the exposure and the risks’.
[i] ‘HAVS breaches rise by a third’ (28 February 2018 The Construction Index) <https://www.theconstructionindex.co.uk/news/view/havs-breaches-rise-by-a-third> accessed 5 March 2019.
[iii] ‘Vibration - Health Effects’ (5 March 2019 CCOHS) <https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/phys_agents/vibration/vibration_effects.html> accessed 5 March 2019.
[iv] David W. Smith, HAND-ARM VIBRATION SYNDROME (HAVS) (AgriLIFE Extension) <https://agrilifecdn.tamu.edu/agsafety/files/2011/06/HAND-ARM-VIBRATION-SYNDROME1.pdf> accessed 5 March 2019.
[v] ‘BSG reports worrying 33% increase in Hand Arm Vibration breaches’ (27 February 2019 Planning, BIM & Construction Today) <https://www.pbctoday.co.uk/news/health-safety-news/bsg-hand-arm-vibration-breaches/53107/> accessed 5 March 2019.