The Hand transmitted vibration affects a range of industries from construction and forestry to mining and maintenance. Shipyard workers are vulnerable to this syndrome due to nature of their work. Also, seafarers are affected considering their frequent and prolonged exposure to power tools such as chipping machine (rust bust), needle guns and hand held grinders during operations. It is estimated that about 10% of personnel which is regularly and frequently work with such tools, is prone to develop HAVS.
- Tingling 'whiteness' or numbness in the fingers: In such case, the blood vessels and nerves are affected. As the condition becomes more severe, the whole finger down to the knuckles may become white. Feeling may also be lost.
- Fingers change colour: In such case blood vessels are affected. The fingers rapidly become pale and feeling is lost. This phase is followed by an intense red flush and is usually accompanied by uncomfortable throbbing.
- Loss of manual dexterity: In such case nerves and muscles are affected. In more severe forms, attacks may occur frequently in cold weather, not only at work, but during leisure activities and may last up to an hour causing considerable pain.
- Loss of fingers: In extreme cases, the worker may lose fingers. The effects are cumulative. If exposure to vibration continues over months or years, the symptoms can worsen and may become permanent.
Loss of feeling (numbness) and/or pins and needles (tingling) in one or more fingers are usually the early features. It may be mild and just affect the tips of the finger(s) and come and go. In severe cases a permanent numbness may extend along affected fingers. This may cause clumsiness and difficulty in doing fine tasks.
White Finger Symptom
At first, the fingers go white and cool and they then go a bluish colour. This is due to the oxygen being used up from the reduced blood supply of the narrowed blood vessels. At next stage they go bright red. This is due to the blood vessels opening up again (dilating) and the return of a good blood flow. This may cause tingling, throbbing and pain.
Aches and pains
Minor damage to the muscles, joints and bones may cause aches and pains in the hands and lower arm. The strength of your grip may be weakened.
Precautions against HAVS
As of today, there are limited medical treatments to HAVS, however it can be prevented by taking precautions to protect oneself against high vibration exposure levels. The following steps are suggested to workers who use vibrating tools:
- Hold tools as loosely as possible and in varying positions.
- Ensure that tools are well maintained.
- Use tools correctly and use the right tool for the job. The aim is not to need to use excessive grip, nor to use a tool for longer than necessary.
- Take regular breaks of at least 10 minutes away from the tool. Short bursts of work are better than long periods of work without a break.
- Keep warm while at work - especially your hands. Use Anti Vibration gloves if possible
- Reduce smoking - the chemicals in tobacco can affect blood flow.