How is the average consumer meant to interpret that or indeed a professional doing a risk assessment for exposure in the workplace where use of tools may be for several hours a day? Let’s investigate.
Effects of vibration exposure
According to the seminal text  by Professor John Cherrie et al, exposure to vibration is widespread in industry and is of concern because it may cause discomfort plus vascular, neurological or musculoskeletal disorders. The use of handheld power tools exposes workers to hand-arm vibration, which may cause the tips of the fingers to become blanched, known as vibration white finger (VWF) with loss of feeling and dexterity. The tingling experienced is a pre-cursor to this.
Excessive exposure over long periods can result in hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) or carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and rather like noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), it is often diagnosed when it is too late to do anything, the permanent damage having already been done. HAVS can be extremely debilitating that affects a person’s ability to continue to work and carry out the most routine of tasks such as fastening a button.
The level of vibration from a tool is just one of the risk factors. The other main workplace factors that affect risk are (low) temperature, grip strength (ergonomics), tool productivity and individual susceptibility (e.g., blood flow into the hands) and smoking.
About 30 million people are exposed to hand-arm vibration at work in Europe (2m in the UK alone) from using angle grinders, impact wrenches, air chisels, strimmers, chainsaws and hedge cutters to name but a few tools, and it is estimated that there are perhaps 30-40% who are at risk of developing the disease. The sectors at most risk are: -
· Building and maintenance of roads and railways
· Estate management & maintenance
· Heavy engineering
· Manufacturing concrete products
· Mines & quarries
· Motor vehicle manufacture & repair
The situation in the USA according to the US Navy  is that about 2.5 million workers are exposed daily to HAVS from the power tools they use and that documented workplace prevalence of HAVS ranges from 20-50%. The latter is consistent with the estimates in Europe, but the absolute number seems an underestimate based purely on a pro-rata working population and possibly reflects the lack of a legislative focus?
Nearly twenty years ago the EU published the Physical Agents Directive 2003/10/EC, on noise & vibration, aimed at limiting exposure, which for vibration was implemented in the UK as the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations (2005). It set out requirements primarily regarding the assessment of the risk to health to employees from vibration, investigating whether they are likely to be exposed above the daily exposure action value (EAV), measures to control exposure, health surveillance and training.
Where there’s blame, there’s a claim
The 2000 annual report by The Employers’ Liability Tracing Office (ELTO) showed the rank of claimant searches for industrial exposure-based diseases (see Table 1)