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Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS): Is an increased awareness linked with an increase in reporting of new HAVS cases?

The issue of Raynaud’s disease made its way onto the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2 in September.  Guest Dr Sarah Jarvis explained the causes and symptoms and debunked common myths.

When doing so, Dr Jarvis also addressed a particular form of Raynaud’s known as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), experienced by some who have used vibratory tools for excessive periods during the course of their employment.  

It’s not widely debated outside those who work with such tools, or those who employ, support or treat them.  The discussion, albeit very brief, highlighted what a significant impact the symptoms can have on sufferers.

What the show didn’t do, however, is to highlight the continuing scale of the HAVS problem and a recent, potentially worrying trend. In its November 2022 report, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) set out their latest figures for newly reported cases of HAVS.  

The findings show a concerning increase in instances of HAVS. That may suggest increasing employer malaise when it comes to implementing the necessary measures to protect their employees from the dangers of exposure to excessive vibration.  Alternatively, and perhaps more optimistically, it could reflect a growing awareness of the condition amongst those in relevant industries.

HAVS is a condition that is caused by the regular and prolonged use of hand-held vibratory tools or machines and mainly consists of two components; vascular effects (whiteness of the fingers, particularly on exposure to the cold) and sensorineural effects (such as numbness, tingling, pins & needles). It's also associated with some musculoskeletal effects such as a loss of grip strength.   

Due to the visual vascular effects of the condition, it's also commonly referred to as Vibration White Finger (VWF). It's a progressive condition and in its more advanced stages can be severely debilitating, affecting all aspects of a person’s daily life. It's also largely preventative.

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 came into force with the aim of protecting workers from the risks posed by exposure to vibration. The regulations introduced various actions that employers should take including:

  • The duty to measure vibration exposures and to keep those exposures below certain thresholds, with an absolute maximum daily limit imposed;
  • A duty to reduce their workers’ vibration exposure to as low a level as reasonably practicable, notwithstanding those absolute limits;
  • A duty to protect employees through risk assessment, awareness training and the introduction of controls; and
  • Health surveillance where employees are at potential risk.

At that time, the HSE stated: “If employers comply with the regulations and follow the guidance set out, it may be possible to eliminate any new incidence of disability from hand-arm vibration by 2015 and to stop any employees developing advanced stages of these diseases.” However, recent reporting by the HSE show that this has not been the case.  

While the statistics do show that there was a general decline in the reporting of new HAVS cases from 1210 newly reported cases in 2010 to a low of 180 cases in 2018, there was an increase to 205 cases in 2019 and to 300 cases in 2021*, the highest number of reported cases for five years.

(source: HSE website –

So why is this happening; why are HAVS cases still being reported and why does there appear to be a recent upturn in the reporting of new cases of HAVS?

At Irwin Mitchell, we have a long, proud history of successfully representing claimants following their development of HAVS in claims against employers.  In the last few years, we've seen an increasing tendency for some employers to treat the requirements stipulated in the 2005 Regulations as a mere ‘box ticking exercise’. 

It seems a familiar story from claimants; they're asked to complete vibration monitoring sheets by employers, but in such a way as not to record the true extent of their daily exposure. Furthermore, it seems increasingly common that those sheets invariably ‘end up in a drawer’ without a proper consideration or follow up.

There are a number of vibration monitoring and vibration restriction options available to employers that will ensure their employees are never exposed to damaging daily levels of vibration. However, our experience suggests that some choose not to implement them.  

Some employers seem unaware of their obligations, while others appear to make a conscious decision to carry out a bare minimum of checks, believing that to be sufficient to fulfil their duties.  Either way, those who do not properly comply risk prosecution and heavy fines.

There are very many employers who carry out their duties to the full and who appear to take the health and wellbeing of their workers very seriously when it comes to the dangers of vibration.  These represent the majority.  

The HSE statistics make it clear that since the implementation of the 2005 Regulations, the number of affected individuals has declined and that is as a happy consequence of employers making greater efforts to reduce vibration exposure.

However, it's our experience that there are still a great many who have not made the same efforts and this leads to solicitors like us receiving regular instructions to act for workers who now experience the debilitating effects of HAVS.

The HSE estimates that more than two million people are at risk from developing HAVS and approximately 300,000 people currently suffer from HAVS in the UK alone.  Great steps have been taken to reduce the incidence of HAVS since the 2005 Regulations came into effect, but it's important to ensure that complacency doesn’t set in.  Compliance is important, not simply for the sake of good administration. 

Early reporting and identification of symptoms is also important. In relevant cases, where exposure to vibration is halted, the progression of the disease can be stopped (and in some limited circumstances, reversed).  As the BBC Radio 2 show highlighted, there are treatments. 

Awareness is key to resolving the issue.  Employers need to remain aware of the dangers and understand their obligations, while employees need to understand why limits on exposure exist and the significant consequences that might arise if guidance isn’t followed.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people affected by HAVS/VWF at the dedicated section on our website.

HAVS is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent.

HAVS is serious and disabling, and nearly 2 million people are at risk.”