Vibration White Finger as a term is slowly being replaced by the broader concept of HAVS which also accounts for the rest of the arm as opposed to just the fingers and hand exclusively.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is a widely recognised industrial disease that effects people numbered in the tens of thousands. The condition affects the nerves, muscles, arm joints and blood vessels after extensive exposure to vibration frequencies of between 5 and 2000 Hz, although the greatest risk exists between the frequencies of 5 and 150 Hz.
Vibration White Finger as a term to describe an industrial disease was first introduced by the Industrial Advisory Council in 1970, but the symptoms were first noted by Professor Giovanni Loriga in 1911. The causal link between the symptoms and vibrating hand tools however, was not discovered until 1918, where Alice Hamilton MD conducted a more extensive study on the matter.
As with many occupational illnesses, the official recognition of an industrial disease can take decades. So although the symptoms of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome were noted at the beginning of the 20th century, the first scale used to assess the condition was not published until 1975. Despite this, Vibration White Finger was not listed as a prescribed disease in the UK until 1985 and ‘The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations’ were not created until 2005, a gap of some 80 years between discovery and official recognition. During this time many people remained ignorant of the dangers that vibrating hand tools and equipment posed and so many now suffer from HAVs symptoms.
As a result of this delayed recognition, and the failure for some employers to implement safeguards many of those affected are making Vibration White Finger Claims.
VWF/ HAVS Symptoms
It is characterised by the discolouration of the extremities, often in response to external temperature changes; this is a secondary form of Raynaud’s syndrome. The symptoms of VWF are a vascular element of the HAVs condition and the discoloration is often accompanied by tingling or numbness in the fingers, indicating that the blood vessels and nerves have been affected. In more severe cases, the individual may experience manual dexterity loss; where the bout can last up to an hour, wherein they may experience considerable pain and reduced grip strength.
What Causes Vibration White Finger?
As mentioned previously, Vibration White Finger is caused by continued, direct physical exposure to vibrations between 5 and 2000 Hz, although the frequencies between 5 and 150 Hz are thought to carry the greatest risk.
It is presently unknown as to how vibrations induce Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, but what is known is that episodes are triggered largely by the cold. Research also suggests that betablockers and smoking may exacerbate the symptoms due to their effects on blood circulation.
Diagnosing Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is usually straight forward. Symptoms rarely surface until ten years after the damage is initially done so when consulting with your GP, they will need to examine your occupational history to ensure that your work and the onset of symptoms are related.
For HAVS diagnosis the following are required:
- Evidence of long-term exposure to vibration.
- Episodes of digital pallor.
- Exclusion of other causes of Raynaud’s phenomenon or sensory changes.
- Diagnosis would be supported by the finding of calluses on the hand, loss of sensation in the digits affected and muscle weakness. These may not be apparent in the early stages of disease.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome does share some symptoms with other conditions, so in some cases a differential diagnosis may be made.
- Raynaud’s disease
- Buerger’s disease
- Hypothenar hammer syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Thoracic outlet syndrome
You do not need to have received a diagnosis to place Vibration White Finger Claims for Compensation.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome Treatment
The first Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome treatment is to take preventative measures. Where possible; alternative techniques should be utilised to reduce the harmful nature of vibrating equipment. There are anti-vibration gloves available to power tool users, but their effectiveness can be hard to determine. The easiest way to reduce exposure is to take frequent breaks and where possible, be redeployed in a role that requires reduced vibrating tool use.
You can make the biggest impact by asking to use low vibration tools; you should be using the most efficient tool for the job so you can get jobs completed more quickly, reducing your exposure.
Check all of your tools to ensure they have been properly maintained to avoid excessive vibration caused by faults and general wear; ensure that cutting tools remain sharp and effective and avoid forcing a tool or gripping it too tightly. You can also encourage good blood circulation by massaging your hands during breaks and by keeping warm.
If caught early and the source of vibration is removed from occupational work, the progression of the disease can be halted and in some cases reversed. Those who are diagnosed with HAVS are highly advised to quit smoking and to avoid the cold where possible.
In advanced cases however, the progression of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome can continue even if the source of vibration is removed; in extreme cases fingers may be lost.
Drugs have little part in the treatment of Vibration White Finger although Nifedipine or other calcium channel blockers may be beneficial. Iloprost has also been reported as having promising effects in advanced disease cases.
As of 2005, employers have a legal obligation, or ‘Duty of Care’ to their employees to assess and indentify measures to control and reduce vibration levels. They must also provide protective equipment where appropriate as well as providing health and safety training on the subject, and installing surveillance where possible to monitor tool use.
Vibration White Finger Claims & Compensation
If you believe that you, or someone you know may be affected by the aforementioned symptoms, It is important that you make a Vibration White Finger Claim. If successful, it could give you the financial security you need to transition to a new role to aid your recovery.
The responsibility to monitor and prevent the onset of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome lies with your employer. They legally have a ‘duty of care’, to ensure that they provide a safe working environment and to carry out regular risk and safety assessments to ensure employee safety. If your occupation requires the extensive use of vibrating hand tools, you should be provided with detailed information on risk factors, as well as protective equipment and training so that you can protect yourself.
If your employer is found to be negligent in providing protection and safeguards for you and your colleagues, it is possible that other staff may be affected, adding to the weight of a Vibration White Finger Compensation claim. So if you feel that your employer has not provided you with the care, information and equipment you required, and you suffered as a result, contact Asons Solicitors to make a Personal Injury Claim today.
Am I Likely to be Affected by Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome?
Since Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is caused almost exclusively by the prolonged use of vibrating tools, any occupation that requires their extended use can see people in their field affected. Below is a sample of the worst affected industries.
Some of the worst affected professions include:
- Building and maintenance of roads and railways
- Estate management (e.g. maintenance of grounds, parks, water courses, road and railside verges)
- Heavy engineering
- Manufacturing concrete products
- Mines and quarries
- Motor vehicle manufacture and repair
- Public utilities (e.g. water, gas, electricity, telecommunications)
- Shipbuilding and repair
If you are still unsure, the use of certain vibrating fabricators and machinery can also be to blame.
Some of the most common problem tools include:
- Concrete breakers/road breakers
- Cut-off saws (for stone etc)
- Hammer drills
- Hand-held grinders
- Impact wrenches
- Jack Hammers
- Needle scalers
- Pedestal grinders
- Power hammers and chisels
- Powered lawn mowers
- Powered sanders
- Strimmers/brush cutters
- Wacker Plates
I Think I May Have Been Exposed, What Should I Do?
If any of the above applies to you, or if you feel that you may have spent extended periods of time using vibrating tools, over the course of many years in the past, you should consult with your GP. If you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms such as numbness, discolouration, tingling, reduced grip strength and painful episodes induced by cold temperatures, speak to your GP immediately.
You should talk to your GP about:
- Any past or present jobs that involve working with vibrating tools
- The symptoms experienced in response to changing temperature
- Tests you may need
- Whether you should see a specialist
- How to Protect yourself in future
How can Asons Solicitors help?
We can provide assistance for a variety of occupational Vibration White Finger Claims. In talking to us you will receive the utmost care and attention whilst we deal with your claim and we’ll keep you updated along every step of the way.
What Should I do Now?
If you have spoken to your GP and have received a diagnosis, or if you suspect that you, or someone you know may be affected by the condition you should make a Vibration White Finger Claim with us today.
Vibration White Finger Resources
Our comprehensive guide ‘Don’t Lose Touch – How To Deal With Vibration White Finger/ Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome’ provides expert advice on how to cope with the two vibration-related conditions, as well as providing statistics on their occurrence and examples of successful claims which have been made.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides information on Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome as well as printable leaflets and brochures offering guidance.