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The risks of work-related hand-arm vibration syndrome

On Behalf of | May 31, 2023 | Workplace Injuries |

Power tools and similar equipment allow workers to perform tasks that usually require back-breaking physical work. But at the same time, these tools can also cause excessive vibration that can harm users.

Excessive vibrations can cause hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). It has been estimated that in the U.S. alone, there are 2.5 million workers who are exposed to HAVS through their jobs. What is this ailment, and which industries are most vulnerable to it?

What causes HAVS?

HAVS occurs because constant exposure to excessive vibrations can impair the blood circulation in users’ hands. Depending on how often a worker’s hands are exposed to vibration or how severe the vibrations are, HAVS symptoms can appear after just several months into a job. But it could also take years to manifest.

HAVS symptoms

Originally called vibration white finger disease, HAVS can manifest in the whitening of fingers – particularly during cold weather. But there are other signs that an individual could be suffering from HAVS, including:

  • A loss of sensation in the fingers
  • Feeling pins and needles in the hands
  • Loss of dexterity and grip strength
  • Waking up to painful fingers and hands

The most extreme cases of HAVS can severely impact a person’s ability to work and perform social activities.

Industries at high risk of HAVS

According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the following industries are at high risk of HAVS. This list also includes which tools or equipment are mainly responsible for causing HAVS:

  • Construction – Hand tools
  • Farming – Gasoline chainsaws
  • Metalworking – Hand tools
  • Steel – Cleaning furnaces with power tools
  • Lumber – Gasoline chainsaws
  • Furniture – Hand tools
  • Mining – Pneumatic drills
  • Auto manufacturing – Hand tools
  • Foundries – Hand tools

While these industries are at the highest risk of HAVS, any line of work that subjects workers to excessive vibrations can lead to the disease.

As an occupational disease, HAVS currently has no cure. Businesses that work with power tools should provide their workers with protective gloves that can reduce the effects of excessive vibrations. Workers who develop the disease may claim benefits through workers’ compensation. Still, even with proof, the state workers’ compensation board may deny a workers’ claim, especially if there’s evidence that the worker uses power tools outside their job. In such cases, workers should hire a lawyer with experience in workers’ compensation law. A legal professional can help workers determine which benefits they’re entitled to and settle any disputes with the state workers’ compensation board.