What is Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome? (HAVS)

Hand arm vibration syndrome is often abbreviated to just HAVS. Which answers the often asked questions:

What does HAVS stand for or put another way what is HAVS?

Vibration can cause permanent damage to the nervous and circulatory systems, and aggravate back pain. Many jobs involve using machinery, vehicles or tools that can expose you to vibration.

HAVS | Cut Off Wheels

This vibration can be categorized into two different types:


  • Hand-arm vibration (HAV) is the vibration transmitted into hands and arms when gripping 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.


What are the symptoms of HAVS?

Drill | HAVS

Hand arm vibration or HAV is known to cause two permanent types of nerve damage to hands and wrists when exposure is regular and uncontrolled:


  • Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)


A tingling or numbness feeling during or after exposure to vibration is a sign that harm is occurring. HAVS is also known as vibration white finger due to the blanching effect during attacks. 

Onset usually takes place over a number of years, but can happen in just a few months. The symptoms can come and go, but with continued exposure to vibration they may become prolonged or permanent.

Rather than happening while using hand held vibrating tools and equipment, attacks usually occur when the hands or arms are exposed to cold or damp conditions.

Knowing the symptoms of HAVS or vibration white finger will help you to spot it in the early stages.


  • The fingers going white (blanching) and becoming red and painful on recovery.
  • Joint pain and stiffness in the hand and arm. 
  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers which can result in an inability to do fine work such as assembling small components or fastening buttons.
  • Grip strength can be reduced due to nerve and muscle damage.


Carpal tunnel syndrome or CTS

Carpal tunnel syndrome, CTS, is a swelling in the wrist which then presses on a nerve causing the symptoms described below.

It is less serious than HAVS as 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.

The symptoms usually start slowly and will come and go, becoming worse at night.

Knowing the symptoms of Carpal tunnel syndrome, CTS, will help you to spot it early.


  • A weak thumb or difficulty gripping
  • An ache or pain in your fingers, hand, or arm
  • Tingling or pins and needles


Whole body vibration or WBV

Whole body vibration, WBV, can cause back ache 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 at work is unlikely on its own to cause back pain. However, when vibration is high enough to cause discomfort, or there are large shocks and jolts regularly the risks are increased.

It is common for WBV exposure to aggravate a back problem caused by another activity, e.g. a muscle strain caused by an accident when lifting a heavy object or during physical activity such as sport.


What are the vibration 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 HSE has produced guidance for these regulations with respect to HAV and WBV separately:

The Regulations require employers to:


Employers have certain responsibilities depending on the level of risk posed by exposure to vibration. The Regulations declare two levels of exposure which dictate what measures 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 to vibration above which employers are required to take certain actions to reduce exposure.


A more detailed explanation of ELV and EAV is covered in our training course with worked examples. We use the HSE HAVS calculator and the HAVS chart to get the ELV and EAV for example types of vibrating tools and equipment.

 Hand Arm Vibrational Training

Further reading

Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)

FAQ about abrasive wheels

A list of articles on health and safety regulations and guidance