Imagine struggling to pick up a small screw or not being able to button your shirt. While the typical person doesn’t even think about these daily tasks, thousands of people suffering from a medical condition called HAVS face this reality every day. While there is no cure for HAVS, there are ways to lower your risk of exposure as well as to stop its progression.
What is HAVS?
Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is a painful and disabling medical condition caused by the constant and repeated use of vibrating percussive power tools and handheld rotating tools, such as grinders, chipping hammers and pneumatic drills. Both frequency and amplitude are factors which lead to injury. Many people are more familiar with the condition being referred to as ‘Vibration White Finger’.
This descriptive term, “vibration white finger”, is used because of the condition’s signature symptom, which can be damage to fingers that results in a whitish appearance. However, the condition not only leads to complications related to the functionality of fingers, but also to the hands and arms.
People suffering from HAVS experience two different kinds of damage: blood vessels and arm and hand nerves. Their joint combination may lead to a condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon, in which individual fingers turn white and exhibit a loss or change of sensation. Overall, HAVS detrimentally affects the vascular, neurological and musculoskeletal systems.
Who is at Risk?
Any workers who handle vibrating objects are at risk of developing HAVS. The industries commonly affiliated with HAVS include construction, building and maintenance of railways and roads, grounds management, foundries, forestry, heavy engineering, mines and quarries, manufacturing concrete products, motor vehicle manufacture and repair, public utilities and shipbuilding.
If they work with vibrating power tools, they are at risk of HAVS.
Perhaps HAVS and the operation of vibrational tools should be mentioned in the article called 12 Surprising Causes of Fatigue. Besides the related stress and fatigue associated with the use of vibrational tools, workers who typically operate hammer action tools for an excess of 15 minutes a day, or rotary tools for more than an hour daily are at increased risk of developing HAVS.
Signs & Symptoms
Recognizing the condition early can help prevent the progression of HAVS. If you experience tingling or numbness in your fingers, lack of feeling in your fingers, loss of hand strength, and fingertips turning white then red with a painful recovery, stop your work, alert your employer and consult with your physician.
If the hazardous exposure continues, the condition may gradually progress to involve fingers on both hands, a loss of sense of touch, and the inability to complete simple daily tasks. People who continue to use vibrating tools may eventually lose all sensation in their hands.
Workers at risk for HAVS can wear anti-vibration gloves. These gloves help to stabilize the hands and reduce vibrations from hand-held tools.
The progression of HAVS can be reduced if the condition is recognized at the onset. This allows workers to consult with a qualified medical professional about the symptoms and to make their employers aware of the problem.
Smoking and cold temperatures are known to exacerbate the condition so should be avoided when possible. Damage to the nervous system is permanent, but blood vessels can regenerate at least in part when exposure ceases.
A simple text can be impossible for someone with HAVS.
Your employer is legally responsible for protecting you from HAVS. The best course is to find a different way to do your job free of vibrating machines and tools. If this isn’t possible, pursue healthier options, such as mandatory rest periods and improvements to tool design and maintenance.
If your employer is aware of dangerous conditions and fails to address them, he may be held liable for your financial losses and other costs related to the injury. Lawsuits can also be filed against the manufacturer of dangerous or faulty mechanical equipment.
People at risk of HAVS can play a direct role in lowering their risks by promoting good circulation: staying warm and dry, stopping smoking and exercising extremities during breaks.
While HAVS can be a debilitating condition, it doesn’t have to be life-altering. Limiting or ceasing work with handheld vibrating tools can stop the progression of the disease, while following best practices–and asking for your employer’s support in doing so–can completely prevent hazardous exposure.
Joanna Hughes writes on all subjects from health and wellness to business matters, such as how to promote via social media.