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Screening for hand arm vibration 'is vital'

PLANT Doctor warns that hand-arm vibration syndrome can strike at any time during an operative's career

A LEADING medical consultant has warned firms of all sizes to carry out regular screening for hand-arm vibration syndrome.

Dr Roger Marcuson, who has studied a wide range of cases of hand-arm vibration syndrome and is a consultant vascular surgeon in Manchester, warned that firms which failed to carry out a proper risk assessment of tool use put workers' health in jeopardy and could face huge compensation claims.

He said: 'You cannot put your head in the sand any longer. All employers have a duty to assess the risk of vibration, to record that assessment and to take appropriate action.' Dr Marcuson's warning followed a study of 75 of his cases for compensation for hand-arm vibration injuries.

He found a wide variation in both the age of workers with the syndrome and the time it took symptoms to appear ? from less than five years to over 30 years in some cases.

This highlighted huge differences in victims' experience on site and in workers' susceptibility to vibration injuries.

He said the fact that someone was free from symptoms now did not mean he would not suffer them in days, months, or years. He stressed that it was essential to have a thorough health programme.

He said: 'One guy can have been on the tools since aged 16, using them quite happily, but at aged 52 he gets the first symptoms, such as tingling.

'Another worker could get the symptoms within a few months of starting work, since so much depends on the type of tool and how it is used.

'It needs continued vigilance throughout a worker's career. Early freedom from symptoms does not preclude the later onset of problems.' The current HAV regulations say employers should make regular occupational health assessments, either with qualified in-house staff, or for smaller companies, by bringing in someone such as an occupat ional health nu rse.

Dr Marcuson said: 'It will be more difficult for smaller companies and those with rapid turnover, but the risks of vibration exposure are always present.

If a small company gets a big insurance claim , they could be in t rouble.

'Pre-employment screening, education and regular health surveillance is required. It should be an annual assessment if the worker is at h igh r isk.' The workers themselves should take some responsibility, he added.

He said: 'Employees have to report symptoms such as tingling or pins and needles at the earliest opportunity.

'It is probably unrealistic to prevent all cases of HAVS, but later stages are avoidable if recognised early.

'Close monitoring to detect further deterioration is necessary and moving to non-vibration exposure jobs may be required.

'But once it gets to the point of not being able to hold a glass, it is probably irreversible.'