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What is HAVS?
What is HAVS?
Hand arm vibration syndrome, also known as HAVS, is a type of industrial disease that produces symptoms in the arms and hands usually from the prolonged use of vibrating power tools in the workplace. Without proper care and too high an 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 are currently irreversible so it is incredibly important that workers in high risk occupations to extra care to prevent the onset of HAVS.
Hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) was commonly referred to as Vibration White Finger (VWF) in the past, but it was discovered that the symptoms associated with the condition were not solely confined to the fingers so the vibration white finger term was superseded by the more accurate hand arm vibration term.
Hand arm vibration syndrome early symptoms
A strong feeling of 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/s, 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
If HAVS persists 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.
The effects that HAVS symptoms can cause
A person suffering from HAVS will have pain in the affected area and may well suffer from 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. More advanced hand arm vibration syndrome can affect the dexterity of the hands so this could prevent people from working in environments where precise tasks are required. A person's ability to grip objects can be reduced significantly
Causes of HAVS
Causes of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome
Hand arm vibrations syndrome (HAVS) is caused by the repeated use of hand held vibrating tools or vibrating machinery over a sustained period of time. Manual workers that are in the engineering, steel or mining industries are particularly susceptible to HAVS due to the propensity of vibrating tool use in the workplace.
Factors that can cause a worker to be at risk of developing a hand arm vibration syndrome condition are -
- - How long a worker has been using the vibrating equipment
- - How high the levels of vibration that the worker has been subject to
- - The type of equipment that has been used and the mechanism for holding the equipment
- - The conditions in which a person has to work i.e. heat or cold, dry or wet
- - How tightly the piece of machinery needs to be gripped in order to perform the job
- - The general heath of the worker and whether they take beta blockers or are smokers (smoking has been shown to adversely affect the circulatory system)
Types of HAVS
Types of HAVS
Hand arm vibration syndrome is an umbrella term for an industrial injury that causes injury to the arm, hand, wrist, fingers or thumbs after prolonged use of vibrating power tools. HAVS can be broken down into two broad vascular and neurological conditions.
Vascular HAVS condition - Vibration White Finger
Vibration white finger is a type of hand arm vibration condition that affects the muscles, nerves, blood vessels and joints of the arm, wrist hand and fingers and can be a disabling condition if it is not treated. Specifically a sufferer of VWF will see a blanching of the fingers and will experience severe pain in the fingers particularly when exposed to a cold environment. Vibration white finger is a secondary form of Raynaud's syndrome and as a consequence shares many similarities in manifestation of symptoms. VWF not only causes severe pain in the fingers, but also a reduced dexterity and ability to carry out particular functions. Recovery from VWF is usually poor if at all.
Neurological HAVS condition - Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a relatively common condition which 11 in 100 women and 3 in 100 men will suffer at one point in their lifetime. It is a disorder caused by compression of a median nerve often as a consequence of prolonged vibration (not always the case) and a sufferer will feel pain, tingling and numbness in the hands, wrists and arms. This can culminate in a general weakness in the affected part of the body. There is treatment available for carpal tunnel syndrome and often the condition will clear up over time with no treatment required.
Measures of control
Measures of control in the workplace
Explore different methods to do the work that do not include the use of vibrating power tools. This maybe through the use of different tools or using machines to do the work that human workers used to do.
The type of equipment that is used in the workplace has a large impact on the levels of vibration that an employee may have to suffer. Tools that are gripped correctly, that are in excellent condition and that are used in the way that they were designed to be used will lessen the risks associated with excess vibration. Also, when selecting the type of equipment to be used 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 emit less vibration. By regularly replacing old (potentially worn out and malfunctioning) equipment with new modern equipment there is a lessened risk of excess vibration. As part of a company purchasing policy, the vibration levels of hand held machinery should be a consideration.
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 in the workplace. A poorly maintained piece of machinery is more likely to provide increased levels of vibration if the worker has to overtly force of grip the machinery in an unorthodox way.
Workers should be kitted out in the right type of protective clothing, and they should be kept dry and warm where possible. This could include working indoors where possible and the use of protective gloves (both of which are measures which can help to reduce the risk of a worker developing vibration white finger symptoms).
Finally, an effective mechanism for reducing the risk of hand arm vibration syndrome is to reduce the amount of time a worker has to use vibrating tools. This can include the use of rotas between staff using vibrating equipment.
In addition to the health surveillance service, the occupational health services that we can provide include:
- Pre-Placement Health Assessments
- Fork Lift Truck Driver Health Assessments
- Night Worker Health Assessments
- DSE Assessments
- Management Referrals
- Sickness Absence Management
- Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) tier 3 and 4 Assessments
- Driver Medicals
- Noise Assessments
- Biological Monitoring of urine for Isocyanates