Managing Vibration in the Workplace

Vibration can cause permanent damage to the nervous and circulatory systems and aggravate back pain. At work, you are likely to experience two types of vibration:

  • Hand-arm vibration (HAV) is the vibration transmitted into hands and arms when gripping power tools that vibrate such as sanders and drills, or when holding materials being worked by hand-fed machines such as a hand saw.
  • Whole-body vibration (WBV) is the shaking or jolting of the human body through a supporting surface, such as a seat or the floor, when driving a vehicle or operating large machinery.
Cut off wheel vibration

What is hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)?

Hand-arm vibration syndrome, often abbreviated to HAVS, is a condition caused by frequent and regular hand-arm vibration exposure. It affects the nerves, circulation and muscles in the fingers, hands and arms and can cause:

  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers as a result of nerve damage.
  • Aching or painful sensations in the wrist and arms caused by muscle damage.
  • Fingers turning white (blanching) as a result of damage to the blood vessels. HAVS is often known as 'vibration white finger' because of this symptom.
  • Reduced grip strength caused by nerve and muscle damage.

HAVS can be challenging to spot because it usually develops over several years and, in its early stages, its symptoms can come and go. Also, attacks often occur when the hands or arms are exposed to cold or damp conditions as opposed to when using vibrating tools.

It is important to know these symptoms because they will allow you to spot HAVS in the early stages and put measures in place to prevent the symptoms from becoming more severe and permanent.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)?

As well as HAVS, regular and prolonged exposure to hand-arm vibration can cause carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), swelling of the wrist that compresses the nerves within it. It can cause:

  • A weak thumb or difficulty gripping.
  • An aching or painful sensation in your hand or arm.
  • Tingling or numbness in the upper arm or hand.

These symptoms usually start slowly and will appear intermittently, becoming worse at night. It is important to know the signs of carpal tunnel syndrome to spot it early, but, unlike HAVS, it is reversible and will usually go away if the source of the problem is removed. However, persistent cases can require steroid injections or even surgery if these are unsuccessful.

What is whole body vibration (WBV)?

Whole-body vibration (WBV) can cause backache or pain. Over five million working days are lost each year due to back pain caused or made worse by work.

Low-level exposure to WBV is unlikely to cause back pain on its own. More often, WBV exposure aggravates a back problem caused by another activity such as a muscle strain caused by an accident when lifting a heavy object or during physical activity such as sport.

What are the vibration at work regulations?

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 require employers to eliminate or reduce risks to health and safety from vibration at work.

The regulations apply where work activities expose people at work to vibration-related health and safety risks. The regulations cover both employees and other workers affected by the work activities.

The Regulations require employers to:

In order to help you comply with these regulations, the HSE has produced some helpful guidance on HAV and WBV.

What are vibration exposure limits?

Employers have a responsibility to manage exposure to vibration in the workplace, and the extent to which they must do so varies depending on the level of risk it poses. The Regulations state two levels of exposure that dictate the measures that need to be in place: 

  • The daily exposure limit value (ELV)
  • The daily exposure action value (EAV)

The daily ELV is the maximum amount of vibration an employee may be exposed to on any single day. The daily EAV is the level of daily exposure that an employee may experience before an employer is required to take certain actions to reduce exposure.

We have created a simple calculator that can be used to calculate the daily ELV and EAV, which can be viewed here. For a more detailed explanation of ELV and EAV, consider taking our: