Workers at risk of irreversible vibration white finger

Posted on 30 May 2013 by Tim Brown

New research estimates that 300,000 employees in the UK have advanced symptoms of Vibration White Finger and more than 600,000 users of hand-held or hand-guided power tools are at increased risk.

Vibration white finger is an industrial injury which mostly affects those using hand-held vibrating tools such as chainsaws, concrete breakers, disc cutters, sanders and more. The condition is also known as hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) as the condition can easily affect the rest of the arm and it is also a secondary form of Reynaud’s disease.

An example of Vibration White Finger - image courstesy of PRWeb
An example of Vibration White Finger - image courstesy of PRWeb

Research published in April by vibration management specialists Reactec, estimates that 300,000 employees in the UK have advanced symptoms of vibration white finger, whilst 22,500 workers in the north of England across a range of building disciplines are exposed to HAVS on a regular basis.

Workers continuously exposed to vibrations between 5Hz and 2000Hz must be aware of the high risk as damage is permanent. Fortunately, HAVS is preventable as there are easy and cost-effective ways to reduce the risk of developing this condition.

Many of those surveyed as a part of the research did not receive an adequate level of protection.

Employers are being urged to protect staff against the risk of HAVS and vibration white finger.

As recently as March this year, GKN Aerospace became the latest high profile organisation to face the costly fall-out from ineffective management of employees working with vibrating tools. The company was fined a total of £26,800 and ordered to pay full costs of £8,256 after admitting four breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 between July 2005 and December 2011.

The court heard that a GKN health surveillance programme identified the five employees as suffering advanced debilitating problems in 2011. However, the company continued as before and still failed to assess the risks and put controls in place to protect the significant number of remaining workers.

The occupations identified by Reactec from Construction Skills Network data as most ‘at risk’ from HAVS include plant operatives and plant mechanics as well as those working in the steel, wood or electric trades.

Companies such as Reactec provide Hand Arm Vibration monitoring equipment which record workers’ exposure to vibration from power tools, providing employers with in-depth information about their vibration management in order to meet strict HSE guidelines and minimise the risk of employees contracting vibration-related injuries.

Adriano D’Ambrosio at Asons Solicitors advises that companies ensure tools and equipment have been properly maintained to reduce vibrations and ensure workers take breaks between tasks and encourage blood circulation by wearing gloves and doing finger exercises.

HAVS Symptoms to look out for include: 

  • Numbness or tingling feeling in your finger tips.
  • Fingers or finger tips turn white due to restricted blood flow.
  • Loss of grip which may degenerate up to disability of the hands.
  • Aggravation of the general condition in cold weather.

Vibration white finger symptoms can be very frustrating and, in extreme cases, lead to accidents. Numbness and tingling feelings affect the ability to perform very simple tasks such as handling small objects or pressing buttons.

If you have been experiencing some of these symptoms do not hesitate to report your medical condition to your employer and visit your GP.