Hand arm vibration syndrome

Hand arm vibration syndrome, originally referred to as Vibration White Finger (VWF) in the past, is a condition produced by the prolonged use of vibrating power tools in the workplace. 

However it was discovered that the symptoms associated with the condition were not solely confined to the fingers so the term Hand Arm Vibration, or HAVS, is now used.

The symptoms occur in the arms and hands, and without proper care and without reducing exposure to vibrating industrial tools, hand arm vibration syndrome, which is a secondary form of Raynaud’s syndrome, can occur in a worker along with the possibility of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

HAVS can be a disabling condition that affects the muscles, joints, blood vessels and nerves of the hands, arms and wrists. Unfortunately the symptoms of HAVS, if not dealt with at an early stage, are currently irreversible so it is incredibly important that workers in high risk occupations to extra care to prevent the onset of HAVS and if any symptoms develop they should be discussed with a medical professional.


Symptoms of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome

Symptoms include:

- Strong tingling or numbness in the fingers.
- A cold sensation in the fingers.
- A loss of feeling in the fingers.
- A loss of strength in the hand.
- Aching in the wrists and muscles of the forearm.
- The fingers going white (blanching) and turning red upon recovery (this may only be in the fingertips at first)

More advanced hand arm vibration syndrome symptoms.

- It may start to affect more fingers or different muscles or joints if the condition is not managed or treated.
- The numbness could become permanent which would result in a permanent lack of feeling.
- Problems picking up small objects with the fingers.

Additional effects that HAVS symptoms can cause.

- Sleep loss.
- Cold weather is a contributory factor in HAVS symptoms so if a sufferer works outdoors; this could affect the ability for the worker to do their job.
- Limiting dexterity of the hands. This could prevent people from working in environments where precise tasks are required.
- Reducing the ability to grip objects.

Unless the source of the vibration is eradicated or reduced there is a possibility that permanent damage could be caused to the hands e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome.


Measures to control the risk of hand arm vibration in the workplace.

- Explore different methods to do the work that do not include the use of vibrating power tools.
- Selecting the correct type of equipment. It is important to select the equipment that will do the job correctly but with the least amount of vibration to the worker.
- New tools in general will work better than old tools and should generate less vibration. 
- The actual environment in which the tools are being used should be ergonomically designed so that a worker can grip and use equipment in a comfortably fashion as opposed to struggling with a piece of machinery on a badly designed work surface of bench.
- Regular machine or tool maintenance is a must. Worn machines will generate more vibration.
- Protective clothing should be issued so that workers can be kept dry and warm where possible. Protective gloves and/or working indoors, or under cover, are a major advantage.
- Most importantly, reduce the amount of time a worker has to use vibrating tools, including the use of rotas.


Treating Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome.

- In severe cases it has been known for the symptoms to be irreversible so it is important to seek medical advice at an early stage.
- Either stop working with the machinery that caused the injury or you need to work out a plan of action with your employer that will see your exposure to the machinery lessened.
- Smoking may make the symptoms of HAVS worse because smoking is known to affect the circulatory system in the body, so if you are a HAVS sufferer you should seriously consider stopping smoking.
- There are some drugs and substances that may bring on symptoms in some sufferers. These include betablockers, decongestants, some anti-migraine tablets and sometimes the contraceptive pill.
- There is also some evidence to suggest that caffeine can bring on symptoms in some people.
- Keep not only your hands warm, but your whole body. Cold hands or feet can be caused by the whole inner core of your body being cold.
- Running your hands under warm water can provide short term relief.
- In terms of prescription drugs, some HAVS sufferers are prescribed a drug called nifedipine which helps by opening up the blood vessels.








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