Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), also known as white finger, is one of the causes of Raynaud’s phenomenon. The painful syndrome affects the small blood vessels, nerves, muscles and joints in the hands, wrists and arms and is a serious risk for UK construction workers.
If you use a hand-held or hand-guided power tool as part of your day job, you may be at risk of developing HAVS, which has permanent effects. White finger is caused by the frequent use of hand-held vibrating and powerful tools such as power drills, chainsaws, sanding tools and pneumatic drills. It may also be caused by holding onto or working with heavy and powerful machinery that vibrates. Even using such equipment for 15 minutes per day can put you at serious risk. According to recent data, 10% of people who use this type of machinery on a daily basis will develop HAVS, which is a serious and disabling condition. (1)
The constant vibration from powerful tools and machinery damages the endothelial cell walls in your hands, wrists and arms, leading to nerve damage. The symptoms of HAVS include pain and numbness in the fingers and arms as well as a reduced ability to move the fingers, especially to carry out fine detailed tasks that require dexterity.
Cold weather can bring on vasoconstriction in HAVS sufferers, causing the person’s fingers to turn white due to lack of blood supply. If the hands are not warmed, they may turn blue when oxygen levels drop. The fingers will turn red as soon as blood rushes back into fingertips, often when the hands are warmed up. This is why UK construction workers are at risk of developing this condition; and, if not prevented, it can cause significant pain and difficulty working outdoors and on building sites.
If you work for a construction company, it is their responsibility to ensure your welfare and health while on site. If you develop numbness or tingling in your arms or fingers and believe you are at risk of developing white finger, you should report this to your employer or contractor immediately. You must take the necessary precautions to prevent further damage, such as limiting the use of powerful vibrating tools and machinery, keeping your hands warm while outdoors, and wearing appropriate safety gear.
In a recent case, Wrexham council, in North Wales, was fined £150,000 after admitting their failure to ensure that all workers using machinery were not affected by hand-arm vibration syndrome. The employees developed white finger after using machinery such as lawn mowers, trimmers and leaf blowers over a period of time. (2)
Another case brought ground engineering contractor, Keller Limited, to court over the diagnosis of HAVS in one of their employees, despite the employee repeatedly flagging his symptoms to the company for over five years. An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive found that the company did not have the right systems in place to protect their worker’s health and so they were fined £6,000. (3)
If you have experienced the above symptoms and you believe you have developed hand-arm vibration syndrome, please feel free to contact our team today for free, no obligation, legal advice, on 0151 236 1222 or visit our site for more information.