When you work with hydraulic, electric, pneumatic or gasoline powered hand tools, it is imperative to stay up-to-date on your knowledge about Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome, also known as HAVS. The constant vibration your hands handle while using these tools will lead to chronic pain or something as severe and finger amputation.
HAVS is qualified as a repetitive trauma disorder. The first signs of HAVS are the fingers tingling or going numb. The longer one persists in using these high vibration tools the damage in their hands worsen and the disorder continually gets worse. Eventually the damage will show in a fingertip or two, looking as if they are frostbitten. These initial episodes will be infrequent and short in duration. The more the vibration aggravates one’s hands the frequency, pain, and duration of that pain will increase. Soon enough these episodes or attacks will happen even without the tool’s vibrations.
It is the damage to the nerve pathways to your brain and the arteries supplying blood to your fingers that causes HAVS. The white fingertips are caused by a lack of blood flow. Those affected with HAVS need to be more careful with more intricate work because dexterity decreases the further the disorder progresses.
There have been some cases where the decrease of blood flow causes gangrene, where the soft tissue of the finger actually starts to die and decay. Gangrene is the reason amputation becomes the typical result of advanced and severe HAVS. Since HAVS is considered irreversible if you experience any symptoms stop immediately and consult a physician.
There are several factors that increase the risk of HAVS in some workers. Existing medical conditions, medications, tobacco use or anything else that thins your blood flow falls under the category of increased risk. Guidelines have been designed to prevent this increasingly frequent problem. OSHA recommends these the following measures be taken to prevent HAVS and decrease budgeting requirements for workers’ compensation through safety measures.
- Keep hands warm and dry.
- Do not grip tools that may cause HAVS too tightly. Let the tool do the work.
- Decrease vibration by maintaining equipment.
- Be sure every worker in trained in vibration sources, HAVS symptoms, and proper workplace practices.
- Try to schedule work tasks to alternate between using vibrating and non-vibrating tools.
- Keep track of how long each worker is exposed to vibration tools. Implement 10 to 15 minute breaks every hour.
- Use vibration isolation mounts for protection. These reduce the effects of vibrations on the workers.
- Control vibrating guards and machine housings with a damping material such as liquid mastics, elastomeric damping sheets or felt. Get a professional to install the damping material in order to have the correct quantity and type.
As a company it is important to have employees educated in the potential risks that may result in HAVS. It is better to prevent an incident where Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome becomes severe enough to involve workers’ compensation.