Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome: Are You at Risk?
Could I be at risk of developing Vibration White Finger (VWF) / Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)?
Vibration White Finger (VWF) or as otherwise known, Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), is a secondary form of Raynaud’s disease caused by prolonged use of vibrating hand tools or machinery. The condition is usually developed over a period of time and the symptoms can be both vascular and neurological.
What are the symptoms?
- The most common symptom of VWF/HAVS is whitening of the fingers. This is caused by spasms of the blood vessels
- The spasms can affect all of the fingers, only some of the fingers and also part of or all of an individual finger
- The fingers will become cold and numb and the attacks can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours
- The condition is not treatable, but it can be kept under control and may spontaneously improve
Who is at risk?
You could be at risk of developing VWF/HAVS if you regularly use hand-held tools and equipment such as:
- Concrete breakers, concrete pokers
- Sanders, grinders, disc cutters
- Hammer drills
- Chipping hammers
- Chainsaws, strimmers/brush cutters, hedge trimmers
- Powered mowers
- Scabblers or needle guns
- Power hammers and chisels
- Impact wrenches
- Cut-off saws (for stone etc)
You are also at risk if you hold workpieces, which vibrate while being processed by powered machinery such as pedestal grinders.
Early signs that you could be developing the condition include:
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers (which can cause sleep disturbance
- Not being able to feel things with your fingers
- Loss of strength in your hands (you may be less able to pick up or hold heavy objects)
- In the cold and wet, the tips of your fingers going white then red and being painful on recovery (vibration white finger)
If you continue to use high-vibration tools these symptoms will probably get worse, for example
- The numbness in your hands could become permanent and you won’t be able to feel things at all
- You will have difficulty picking up small objects such as screws or nails
- The vibration white finger could happen more frequently and affect more of your fingers
Vibration at Work Regulations 2005
It is your employer’s responsibility to protect you against HAVS. Under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, your employer must prevent or reduce risks to your health and safety from exposure to vibration at work by carrying out a risk assessment for vibration and eliminating, or where elimination is not reasonably practicable, reducing exposure to vibration to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.
Your employer should consider changing your job to be done in a different way without having to use vibrating tools and machines.
Employees can also help themselves by ensuring they follow certain steps such as:
- Using low vibrating tools
- Using the correct tool for the job
- Ensuring tools have been correctly maintained and repaired
- Keeping cutting tools sharp
- Reducing the amount of time you use a tool for in one go
You may have a claim for VWF/HAVS if you can show that you suffer from the condition, that the use of vibration tools at work caused this condition and that your employer was aware of the risks of using the vibration tools at the time you were exposed.