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Hand-arm vibration syndrome causes changes in sensory perception which can lead to permanent numbness of fingers, muscle weakness and, in some cases, bouts of white finger. It is caused by working with vibrating tools.
What is hand-arm vibration syndrome?
Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) causes symptoms in fingers, hands and arms, as a result of using vibrating tools. It used to be called vibration white finger. The name was changed to HAVS, as other symptoms may occur in addition to white fingers.
What causes hand-arm vibration syndrome?
HAVS is caused by repeated and frequent use of hand-held vibrating tools – for example, power drills, chainsaws, pneumatic drills, etc. It may also be caused by holding or working with machinery that vibrates. It is not clear how vibration causes the condition. It is probably due to slight but repeated injury to the small nerves and blood vessels in the fingers. Over time these may gradually lose some of their function and cause symptoms. Possibly, up to 1 in 10 people who work regularly with vibrating tools may develop HAVS.
What are the symptoms of hand-arm vibration syndrome?
Nerves are affected initially, leading to changes in sensation. This can then be followed by Raynaud’s phenomenon resulting from changes in the blood vessels and resulting in a white finger. These changes also lead to muscular aches and pains.
Numbness (loss of feeling) and/or tingling (pins and needles) in one or more fingers are usually the early features. It may be mild and just affect the tips of the finger(s) and come and go. In severe cases a permanent numbness may extend along affected fingers. This may cause clumsiness and difficulty in doing fine tasks – for example, it may become difficult to fasten buttons, handle coins, screws, nails, threads, etc. In many people the severity of nerve symptoms is somewhere in between these two extremes. Sometimes one finger is badly affected with other fingers only mildly affected.
Raynaud’s phenomenon (white finger symptoms)
Raynaud’s phenomenon comes in bouts or attacks that are triggered by cold weather or touching a cold object. A typical bout of Raynaud’s phenomenon is as follows:
- At first, the fingers go white and cool. This is due to the small blood vessels narrowing (going into spasm).
- They then go a bluish colour. This is due to the oxygen being used up from the reduced blood supply of the narrowed blood vessels.
- They then go bright red. This is due to the blood vessels opening up again (dilating) and the return of a good blood flow. This may cause tingling, throbbing and pain.
Some people do not have the full classic colour changes, but still develop bouts of uncomfortable, pale, cold fingers. The duration of each bout of symptoms can last from minutes to hours. The amount of pain or discomfort varies between people. Symptoms usually go after each bout, but one or more bluish fingers may persist in severe cases.
(Vibrating tools are just one cause of Raynaud’s phenomenon. There are other causes too. See separate leaflet called Raynaud’s phenomenon.)
Aches and pains
Minor damage to the muscles, joints and bones may cause aches and pains in the hands and lower arm. The strength of your grip may be weakened.
Tools that can cause HAVS
HAVS (hand arm vibration syndrome) or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can occur in a wide range of trades and occupations. Listed below are some examples of tools and machinery that can place the operator at risk of vibration injury:
Typical claims that we have dealt with included the use of the following types of tools:
- Road Breakers
- Stihl Saws
- Other road maintenance/ construction tools
- Rotating tools
- Percussive hand guided power tools
- Compressed air tools
- concrete breakers and concrete pokers
- sanders, grinders and disc cutters
- hammer drills
- chainsaws, strimmers, brush cutters, hedge trimmers and powered mowers
- chipping hammers, scabblers or needle guns
How can LPS help?
If you believe that you may be suffering from HAVS or have already been diagnosed with it contact us on 0800 996 1807, complete our short form, text 4myclaim to 88802, chat to us online or Calculate your claim now for one of our Industrial Disease solicitors to advise you on a No win no fee basis.