Hand arm vibration syndrome can be a significant risk for workers who use equipment such as chainsaws, concrete cutters, pavement breakers, and other powered tools. Unfortunately many people never hear about it until it is too late. Here’s what you need to know about hand vibration and how to prevent it.
What is hand vibration?
Hand vibration is a type of health hazard that can occur when using certain tools or equipment. It is caused by the vibrations from the tool being transferred to the person’s hands, which can lead to a number of health problems.
What are the risks associated with hand vibration?
Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS): This condition is the most common associated with hand vibration that can be caused by long-term exposure. It can lead to numbness, pain, and loss of strength in the affected hand or arm. In severe cases, it can cause paralysis.
There are other risks associated with hand vibration, including:
Carpal tunnel syndrome: This is a condition that can be caused by the repeated use of vibrating tools. It occurs when the median nerve, which runs through the carpal tunnel in the wrist, becomes compressed. This can lead to pain, tingling, and numbness in the hand and fingers.
Raynaud’s disease: This is a condition that causes the blood vessels in the hands and feet to constrict, which can lead to discomfort and even tissue damage. It is made worse by exposure to cold temperatures or vibration.
What are the main causes of hand arm vibration syndrome?
It occurs when the hands are exposed to high-frequency, low-amplitude vibrations. Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), also known as vibration white finger syndrome, is caused by overexposure to hand-transmitted vibration. It is a serious health problem among people who use handheld power tools, those in the construction industry are most at risk.
The main causes of vibration-induced white finger are exposure to high levels of hand-arm vibration over time. Other factors include cold weather, smoking or diabetes.
What are the most common tools associated with hand arm vibration syndrome?
Unfortunately there are hundreds of tools, equipment and machinery that with long term exposure can lead to hand arm vibration syndrome including:
- Concrete cutters
- Pavement breakers
- Handheld power saws
Of course, there are too many to list, but if it vibrates or shakes when you use it, it could lead to hand arm vibration syndrome.
What are the symptoms of hand arm vibration syndrome?
Some of the symptoms include numbness and discoloration of fingers, such as whiteness, but also include:
- tingling and numbness in the fingers;
- not being able to feel things properly;
- loss of strength in the hands
Once your fingers turn white (blanch), they will become red and painful when you recover from this (particularly in the cold and wet, and probably only in the fingertips at first).
Symptoms usually occur in the dominant hand and progress over time.
After only a few months of exposure, some people may begin to experience symptoms, while others may experience symptoms after several years. Continual exposure to vibration is likely to aggravate the symptoms, and they may eventually become permanent.
How can you prevent hand arm vibration syndrome?
The best way to prevent hand arm vibration syndrome is to avoid using vibrating tools and machinery as much as possible. However, obviously in the workplace that isn’t always possible, fortunately there are some easy and cost effective ways to prevent injury. By completing a risk assessment, and then using the hierarchy of control pyramid, you can discover the best way to prevent hand arm vibration syndrome no matter what kind of work you are doing.
But here are some of the most common ways that hand arm vibration syndrome is prevented.
- By using appropriate gloves to minimize high-frequency vibrations and by regular checks on equipment with a vibration meter
- By using anti-vibration gloves or grips
- By regularly checking equipment for defects
- By taking regular breaks
- By regularly checking the user’s technique when operating equipment
- By monitoring exposure to vibration through regular health surveillance.
What are the risk factors for hand arm vibration syndrome?
People who use tools or equipment which vibrate for a long time or at high speeds are at higher risk of developing Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome. Workers who do not use the tool properly or who are not wearing the appropriate safety equipment are also at higher risk.
How is hand arm vibration syndrome diagnosed?
A diagnosis of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome can be made by your GP or an occupational health specialist. They will ask about your work history and whether you have been exposed to vibrating tools and machinery. A physical examination will also be carried out to check for loss of sensation or circulation problems in the handsand fingers. In some cases, you may also need to have a nerve conduction study or an x-ray.
How is hand arm vibration syndrome treated?
There is no cure for Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, but the symptoms can be managed. In most cases, the best way to treat it is to stop using the vibrating tools and machinery that is causing the problem. If you can’t stop using the equipment, you should try to limit your exposure to it as much as possible
You may also need to take painkillers to relieve any pain and swelling in the affected hand or fingers. In some cases, you may need physiotherapy or surgery to treat the symptoms.
As there is no cure for Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, it is important to try to prevent the condition from developing in the first place. The best way to do this is to avoid using vibrating tools and machinery as much as possible. However, if you can’t avoid using the equipment, you should try to limit your exposure to it as much as possible
What are the long-term effects of hand arm vibration syndrome?
If it is not treated, the symptoms can get worse over time and may become permanent. In severe cases, the muscles in the hand and fingers can waste away, causing deformity. Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome can also lead to other serious health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. And it can also have mental health implications due to loss of work and ability to enjoy life as before.
How does hand arm vibration syndrome affect workplaces?
HAVS is the second most common musculoskeletal disorder, behind back pain. The main impacts include staff absences and reduced productivity. There can be a high financial cost to businesses, as well as the potential for litigation.
Hand Arm Vibration Toolbox Talk
Giving a safety toolbox talk to your staff is a simple and effective approach to train them how to avoid developing hand arm vibration syndrome. It usually just takes a few minutes, and it ensures that everyone’s knowledge is up to date. The toolbox talk should be taken seriously by all employees. Making toolbox talks at least a little bit appealing can help reduce injuries and improve the safety culture of your business.
Don’t forget to read 5 Toolbox Talk hints and tips to make your life easier.
How often should I give a hand arm vibration toolbox talk?
A hand arm vibration syndrome toolbox talk should be done before starting a new project or when your personnel changes. This will allow you to ensure that everyone is aware of the risks associated with vibrating tools and machinery, as well as the importance of using the appropriate safety equipment. It will also give you an opportunity to go over the correct way to use the equipment, so that everyone is working safely and reducing their exposure to vibration.
How can Safe-R Outcomes help your business?
Our Professional subscriptions contain many essential documents including:
- WHS Management Plans / Safety Manuals
- SWMS (if the job entails high risk tasks)
- a range of SOPs, Registers, Toolbox Talks, Checklists and Policies
These can all be downloaded and are not blank templates, so can be used immediately.
We also provide Induction training to help you on-board new employees and contractors.
As you can see it is all done for you so it makes it nice and simple. You can find out more on the Industries and Professions page.
If you’re concerned about the time commitment and knowledge required to implement the correct documents, procedures and training for forklift safety, Safe-R Outcomes can help. We strive to reduce the time and cost for businesses to implement their legally necessary safety requirements.