Protec PPE Blog
How to avoid hand arm vibration syndrome HAVS Posted by alona zakharchenko , Posted on 15/03/2019
Hand-arm vibration syndrome, also known as HAVS, is usually caused by working with vibrating tools over a long period of time. It causes a change in sensory perception, which leads to permanent numbness of fingers, muscle weakness and occasionally white finger (a former name for the condition). It’s related to, but not the same as, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
Causes of HAVS
The syndrome is caused by repeated or extended use of vibrating tools, including power drills, chainsaws, pneumatic drills and other machinery that vibrates. As a result, it is a common workplace injury or condition for those who have used these tools over a long period of time and it’s particularly prominent in the construction, engineering, quarrying, agriculture, and auto-repair industries.
Small but repeated damage to nerve endings and blood vessels in the fingers causes them to lose their function over time. It’s estimated that around one in ten people who use vibrating tools regularly at wok suffer from the condition. However, research shows that the number of new cases each year are decreasing, potentially due to the prevalence of PPE.
HAVS can have a range of symptoms including numbness, tingling, loss of feeling, and more. The first sign of the condition is usually a loss of feeling or tingling feeling in the affected area, usually one or more fingers.
It may be mild at first and located in the tips of the fingers only, but can soon spread. This may cause clumsiness and make it difficult to carry out delicate tasks with your hands such as fastening buttons and picking up nails.
Another classic symptom is that the affected finger loses its colour and goes white, then a bluish colour, and eventually bright red as the blood vessels open up again. The strength of the grip may be weakened, and aches and pains are common in joints and bones.
All of these symptoms can become permanent or chronic if the condition is not addressed in its earlier stages.
For workers who use vibrating tools as part of their job, there are some steps to take before suffering any of the symptoms in order to reduce your chances of developing the condition. Try to hold tools loosely and in varying positions, and ensure they are well maintained. The more work the tool does, the less you have to use your own force. It’s also essential to ensure you have been properly trained in their correct use.
Wearing proper PPE anti-vibration gloves if you work in an environment where HAVS could be an issue is also important. These gloves reduce the effects that vibrating machinery have on your body, preventing a lot of the worst symptoms.
Take regular breaks of at least ten minutes away from the tool, as short bursts are better than extended periods. Also try to keep warm at work, as the cold can exacerbate the condition. As always, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol, as this will help to reduce your risks of developing the condition.
If you have already developed symptoms and are exhibiting signs of HAVS, then you need to try and stop using the tools altogether. Mild symptoms can be reversed if you eliminate the cause. However, if you continue to use vibrating machinery, there is little you can do to prevent the symptoms worsening over time.
Limit drinking alcohol and stop smoking, as this will aid recovery from the symptoms. Taking regular exercise will also help. It’s also important to keep the affected areas warm at all times, so wear a decent pair of gloves when exposed to cold conditions.
Keeping the rest of the body warm with quality workwear, this will also help to reverse the effects of the symptoms. Avoid touching cold objects with bare hands and soak hands in warm water when symptoms flare up.
There is some medication that can be taken to combat the effects of HAVS but prevention and early recognition of the symptoms is always the better option.