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Your guide to Hand-Arm Vibration claims

Man using an electric saw - had arm vibration

Vibration White Finger (VWF) is now more commonly known as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).  It’s an industrial disease or condition that mainly affects those who operate hand-held vibrating power tools such as pneumatic drills, chainsaws, grinders, impact hammers, impact wrenches, sanders, or other power tools over a number of years.  The condition was initially thought only to cause whiteness (or blanching) of the fingers, but tingling and numbness are also common, and cold weather aches and pains are often reported.

The industry accepted date from which employers are deemed to have had knowledge of the damage that vibration can do is 1 January 1976.

Symptoms of vibration exposure

Symptoms of Hand-Arm Vibration vary between individuals but the more common are:

  • Numbness or tingling in your fingers – you may experience pins and needles in your fingers as well as numbness. This is caused by nerve damage. Sometimes these symptoms are limited to your fingertips only, but in more serious cases they can extend up the whole length of your fingers. The symptoms may come and go from time or time, or they may be permanent.  Symptoms that remain can cause problems for you when fastening buttons, for example, or tying shoelaces, or picking up small objects such as coins.
  •  A cold sensation in your fingers  - if you experience coldness in your fingers, this is a common symptom of the condition, often triggered by being out in cold weather conditions or holding a cold object.
  • Discolouration of the skin of your fingers – you may see that your fingers turn from white to blue or even red.  This discolouration of the skin and feeling of coldness is caused by damage to the blood vessels and is usually also associated with pain that can last for a few minutes to few hours and be particularly disabling.
  • Aches and pains in your fingers, hands, and arms - you may experience general aches and pains in your arms, hands and fingers. These are thought to be caused by damage to the muscles, joints or bones and can cause reduced grip strength when trying to take hold of an object.

Once you have developed the condition, there is very little that can be done to treat it.  However, you should seek medical attention from your GP to confirm the diagnosis, and, if you’re still working, you should also report it to your employer so that you can be relieved from using power tools. If you smoke, this can make symptoms worse so if you can stop smoking, this may help you.  You should try to keep your hands warm where possible to keep blood flowing, but unfortunately once nerves have been damaged, they can’t be repaired. 

You should also seek legal advice from a specialist solicitor who can advise you of your right to claim compensation.

How to claim compensation

There are a number of hurdles you will need to overcome in order to succeed with a claim:

1         Limitation – you must bring a claim within 3 years of the date you knew, or ought to have known, that your condition could have been caused by your work.

2         Causation – you must be diagnosed with VWF or HAVS that has been caused by your employment   (We will obtain medical evidence on your behalf to prove that point and we will discuss your work & exposure history with you).

3         Foreseeability – you must prove that your employer could have foreseen that exposure to vibration could have caused that damage and that your employer knew of the risk.

4         Negligence and breach of duty – you must be able to demonstrate that your employer exposed you to excessive vibration in breach of the laws and health & safety regulations. (If they failed to prevent or reduce the exposure to vibration, or failed to supply you with protective gloves, this will assist you.)

It is important to note that all of these hurdles must be overcome, not just one or two.

Who to claim against

Your symptoms must have arisen within a short period of time since your last exposure to vibration, and you should aim to claim against your employer regardless of whether or not they remain in business.  It is often possible to trace the employers’ liability insurance of a previous firm and, once located, the insurers will investigate their liability to pay compensation to you.  If negligence is accepted, that insurer should pay compensation to you based on the damage you have suffered.

If court proceedings are necessary, it may be that some companies that are no longer in existence have to be restored to the Companies House Register for that purpose.