Hand-arm vibration (HAV) can be caused by operating hand-held power tools, such as road breakers, and hand-guided equipment, such as powered lawnmowers, or by holding materials being processed by hand-fed machines, such as pedestal grinders. Occasional exposure is unlikely to cause ill health.

Whole-body vibration (WBV) mainly affects drivers of vehicles used off-road, such as dumpers, excavators and agricultural tractors. However, it can also affect drivers of some vehicles used on paved surfaces, such as lift trucks, or on rails, such as gantry cranes.

Case study: Foundry work
Manufacturing cast pipe components using ‘traditional’ green sand casting resulted in a product requiring a lot of remedial work (fettling), using powered hand-held tools, to produce the necessary quality of finish. The holes in the pipe flanges then had to be drilled in a separate operation.

How was the problem tackled?

A ‘lost-foam’ casting process was introduced and resulted in such a high quality of casting that fettling was no longer required, eliminating all exposure to hazardous vibration.

The casting was so precise that it allowed the holes to be cast into the flanges, which removed the need for drilling and further reduced production time and costs.

Why is dealing with vibration important?

Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)

HAVS is a painful and disabling condition that affects the nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints of the hands and arms. It causes tingling and numbness in the fingers, reduces grip strength and the sense of touch, and affects the blood circulation (vibration white finger, also known as VWF).

Whole-body vibration (WBV)

WBV is associated mostly with low back pain. However, back pain can also be caused by other factors, such as manual handling and postural strains, and while exposure to vibration and shocks may be painful for people with back problems, it will not necessarily be the cause of the problem.

What should employers do?

They should:
  • assess the vibration risk to their workers to identify if there is a problem;
  • put in place appropriate control measures to counter the risks;
  • provide health surveillance where risk remains (HAVS only);
  • provide information and training to workers on health risks and the actions being taken to control those risks.

How can employers reduce hand-arm vibration?

  • Identify hazardous machines, tools and processes, especially those which cause tingling or numbness in the hands after a few minutes’ use.
  • If possible, do the job another way without using high-vibration equipment, e.g. rotary hammers, powered pedestrian-controlled mowers, hand-fed forging hammers etc.
  • Ask about likely vibration levels for the way they use equipment before deciding on which new tool or machine to buy or hire.
  • Provide suitable tools designed to cut down vibration.
  • Make sure people use the right tool for the job and are trained to use it correctly.
  • Make sure machines (including tools) are maintained as recommended by the manufacturer to prevent vibration increasing – check their sharpness, the condition of abrasive wheels, and anti-vibration mounts etc. where fitted.
  • Check whether the job can be altered to reduce the grip or pressure needed.

How can employers reduce whole-body vibration?

  •  Choose vehicles or machines designed to cope with the task and conditions.
  • Keep site roadways level, fill in potholes and remove debris.
  • Train drivers to operate machines and attachments smoothly, to drive at appropriate speeds for the ground conditions and to adjust suspension seats correctly.
  • Maintain and repair machine and vehicle suspension systems, tyre pressures and suspension seats.

Find out more
  1. HSE’s vibration at work website 
  2. Hand-arm vibration at work: A brief guide