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Not Good Vibrations In Recent Cases of White Finger

17th December 2013
While the number of new cases of Vibration White Finger (VWF) assessed for Industrial Injuries Disability Benefit was recorded as 510 in the period 2006/07 (HSE), according to a Department of Energy and Climate change Report, June 2011, there were a total of 170,000 claims under the Vibration White Finger Compensation Scheme.

Vibration white finger - also known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) - is an industrial injury caused by continuous use of vibrating hand-held machinery. Failure to monitor and limit the time an employee operates excessively vibrating machinery, such as a rock drill can today, still lead to injury claims for injury compensation.

While the syndrome was first identified from exposure to vibrating pneumatic tools as far back as 1918, a link was also soon established between electrically powered rotating tools from the 1940s and 1950s. Those working in heavy industries such as construction, engineering, rail and road building and maintenance are at the most risk of developing the condition over the long-term.

Two recent cases demonstrate that HAVS is still a problem that still persists for many workers today, often as a result of a long and uninterrupted history of using intense vibrating tools.

In January 2013, a stonemason who had worked at the same company for ten years and was continually using heavy Kango drills, pneumatic chisels and hammers, angle grinders and spinners developed HAVS. While the company employers provided ‘anti vibration’ gloves, which gave little or no protection, throughout the period, no training was given, levels of vibration were never checked or steps taken to limit the time spent using the tools.

It was claimed that on several occasions, the employer would respond to the workers growing concerns that symptoms of tingling and colour change were simply an ’occupational hazard’. It was also found that the employers had over a number of years, continuously breached the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations.

In March, another case of HAVS was diagnosed in a 48 year old railway worker who had used vibrating tools for 22 years while working at Network Rail and previously, British Rail. Once again, it was a failure to monitor and control the levels of vibration when drilling rocks continuously for many hours at a time that eventually led to HAVS.

Symptoms of HAVS

Excessive exposure to hand arm vibrations can affect nerves, joints, muscles, blood vessels or connective tissues of the hand and forearm. A feeling of tingling and 'whiteness' or numbness, mostly in the fingertips, often means that the blood vessels and nerves are affected. Severe symptoms could reulst in the whole finger becoming 'white' and all sensation lost.

Continued exposure can lead to fingers changing colour when exposed to the cold followed by an intense red flush usually accompanied by uncomfortable throbbing. In more severe cases, attacks may occur during other manual activities and frequently in the cold weather, which causes considerable pain and loss of manual dexterity and reduced grip strength.

Ultimately, if vibration exposure continues over months or years, the symptoms can severely deteriorate and become permanent and in extreme cases, the sufferer may lose fingers.