HAND-ARM VIBRATION SYNDROME (HAVS)
HAVS is a widespread recognized industrial disease that affects the blood vessels, nerves, muscles, and joints of the hand, wrist, and arm. Although the specific symptoms were first described in 1911 by Professor Giovanni Loriga, the connection between the symptoms of HAVS and vibrating hand tools was not made until 1918, in a study undertaken by Alice Hamilton where she followed quarry workers in Indiana, who used pneumatic percussive hammers to break and carve limestone. The condition was not listed as a disease in the UK until 1985, and after a 1997 High Court case in which £127,000 was awarded to coal miners suffering from the disease, a government fund was set up to compensate subsequent claimants.
The symptoms for HAVS include white appearance to the fingers, particularly in the cold (hence the historic name vibration white finger), tingling or numbness in the fingers, and in more severe forms, a loss of manual dexterity or loss of the fingers themselves may occur. The effects are often cumulative- when symptoms first appear, they may disappear after a short time, but if exposure to vibration continues over months or years, the symptoms can worsen and become permanent.
The condition is now known to be a secondary form of Raynaud’s syndrome and is triggered by continuous use of vibrating, hand-operated equipment. People who regularly use machines such as concrete breakers, sanders, grinders, disc cutters, and particularly hammer action tools are at risk of excessive exposure to vibration. While the process by which excessive exposure to vibration causes HAVS, it is thought that repeated vibrations over time may damage small blood vessels in the hands or their nerve supply.
As with all hazards, the risk should be regularly assessed, and appropriate action taken. Where possible, exposure should be avoided altogether. Failing that, exposure should be limited to shorter periods with breaks in work, and protective equipment such as anti-vibration gloves should be worn, although these have been shown to be of limited benefit. It is also important to ensure the correct equipment is being used for the job, and that it is well maintained.
In order to protect your workers from developing HAVS, a vibration assessment of your tools should be carried out by someone suitably qualified to do so. The assessor can determine the likelihood that your employee will exceed the safe daily ‘dose’ of vibration and, if required, a full vibration control programme can be drawn up to assist you in managing the risks, and reduce the likelihood of litigation later on.
At Hawkins, our qualified team of engineers have the tools and knowledge to provide you with a full vibration assessment along with recommendations for meeting the legislative requirements related to keeping your workers safe from harm caused by vibration. In the case where damage has already occurred and you are facing litigation, we are able to look at historical assessments to determine whether or not the worker’s vibration exposure was the likely cause of their injury.
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Effect of the air hammer on the hands of stonecutters. The limestone quarries of Bedford, Indiana, revisited - W TAYLOR et al - British Journal of Industrial Medicine 1984;41:289-295