What is Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)?

If you own or manage a business where your employees are using vibrating tools, or those that require cutting and grinding, they are at risk for developing hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).

This condition involves damage to the nerves, joints, muscles, and circulation of the arms and hands due to vibrations resulting from daily work duties and using tools that cause a vibration.

What Causes HAVS?

Workers that develop HAVS do so because of the repeated use of hand-held vibrating tools. Because they are exposed to frequent vibrations in their hands and arms, they can sustain nerve damage and circulatory problems. Some common tools that increase the risk of developing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome include pneumatic drills, power drills, grinders, and chainsaws.

What Are the Health Risks?

Not only can these vibrating tools cause HAVS, but other related conditions such as Raynaud’s disease, Whole Body Vibration (WBV) syndrome, and White Finger Vibration (WFV) syndrome as well.

Initial symptoms of HAVS often begin with workers having bouts of pain and discomfort. They also may find they are unable to hold the tools comfortably and properly. This quite often means they either take time off work or switch to another type of work in your business. Certain factors increase the risk of developing hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), such as the length of time they use the equipment, the level of vibration, and how tightly the vibrating tool is gripped.

How Do Employees Know They Have it?

The most common symptom associated with hand-arm vibration syndrome is related to the nerves in the employee’s hands and arms. If an employee starts to experience a loss of feeling or tingling, which is described as pins and needles, it is likely a nerve issue. This numbness and tingling can be constant or come and go, especially shortly after using the vibrating tools. Muscle weakness may be noticeable if the condition has advanced.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Diagnosing HAVS is often as simple as describing the symptoms and informing the physician of the duties of the job and tools used. There are also some tests that can be performed to check the strength of the grip, check fine hand movements, and assess touch and feeling sensations.

Fortunately, if an employee has developed HAVS,  there are a few treatment options. To begin with, and as might be expected, physicians typically advised that the employee stop working with these tools for a period of time until their condition improves or disappears.

Getting better circulation through regular exercise and avoiding touching cold objects is also helpful. HAVS patients are asked to stop smoking as this restricts blood vessels. They may be asked to stop taking certain medications or drinking caffeine, either temporarily or permanently.

Due to the likelihood of this condition associated with certain occupations, it is essential that you have a workers’ compensation insurance policy for all your employees. This way, if an employee develops HAVS, they have medical coverage for proper treatment of the condition.