Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome – Causes and Prevention

Hand arm vibration syndrome is a group of symptoms which accompanies prolong exposure to vibration from the use of hand-held vibrating tools. It is commonly known as HAVS and it affects the fingers, hands and arms – hence the name. The hand arm vibration syndrome is believed to be caused by damage to nerves, muscles and blood vessels in the fingers, hands and arms.

These vibration injuries are divided into three (3) groups depending on the area it affects; it could be neurological, vascular or musculoskeletal. Some of the hand-held vibrating tools which could cause HAVS are: Power drills, Chainsaws, Pneumatic drills, Jumping jack, Jack hammers, Chipping tools, Concrete vibrator, Power jig saw, Sander, Angle grinder, Polisher, Needle gun and scabblers, etc.

According to an expert, Hand arm vibration can take six months to six years to develop, and after the fingers blanch, the condition is irreversible.

Key point about hand arm vibration syndrome:

  • About 2 million U.S. workers are exposed to hand arm vibration and as many as half will develop HAVS – Says an experts.
  • Hand arm vibration affects various industries including construction, mining and forestry.
  • Preventive measures can help workers limit the development of hand arm vibration syndrome.

HAVS Group Injuries

Neurological injuries: This is caused by neurological damage to the nerve cells in the fingers, hand and arms. This damage is irreversible. The early signs are numbness and tingling; the latter sign is severely reduced hand functionality which could result to dropping things easily. A common example of neurological injury is the Carpal tunnel syndrome.

Muscular injuries: This is caused by damage to the muscle structure. This may result to reduced grip strength.

Vascular injuries: This is caused by its effect on the capillaries in the hand and fingers causing vasospasm. This reduce blood flow to the hand results to numbness and blanching (Whiteness of the hand)

General Symptoms of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome

  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Loss of sensitivity in those areas
  • Whiteness of fingers
  • Loss of strength to the finger diminishing the grip strength

The hand arm vibration syndrome is irreversible after it is fully developed. The development of vibration injuries is individual specific. It takes few months to years to develop in some individuals, whereas some individuals may get exposed to this risk for so long without developing the syndrome.

Since we may not know the category you belong, our best option is to prevent it.

Prevention of HAVS

Aside from using anti or low vibration tools, Wasserman and colleagues had highlighted safe practices for HAVS prevention:

  1. Keep the hand warm
  2. Refrain from smoking
  3. Grip the tool lightly as possible while in use in order not to increase the vibration coupling.
  4. Ensure good equipment maintenance
  5. Take intermittent breaks when working with hand-held vibration tools.
  6. Use appropriate hand gloves
  7. Seek medical attention if you notice signs of HAVS. Early detection is paramount for full recovery.

Other recommendations are:

  • Train the workers on the hazards of working with hand-held vibration tools and safety measures necessary to control the risks.
  • Keep your hand dry and warm before using the hand-held vibration tools.

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