If your job requires you to work with handheld equipment or power tools that produce high levels of vibration, you might be a perfect candidate for Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). This equipment includes power tools like industrial grinders, impact wrenches, jackhammers and even chainsaws. Safety authorities say millions of workers nationwide, including those in Pennsylvania, suffer such vibrations that could lead to HAVS.
Repeated vibration and shaking of your hands and arms damage the blood vessels, muscles, nerves and joints of your arms and wrists. Researchers say the damage of your hands' very fine blood vessels causes this work-related syndrome.
Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition that causes painful fingers that turn white and then red when they get wet or cold. This reaction is one of the symptoms of HAVS, along with the following:
- Initial symptoms: Early indicators include tingling, pins-and-needles, numbness and the loss of feeling in your fingers. Initially, you might experience these sensations intermittently, and although they are not absolute proof of HAVS, they might provide early warning.
- Later symptoms: When the numbness in your fingers become permanent, it might be too late to do anything about the condition because the damage could already be permanent. HAVS can make handling small objects challenging, and you might need help buttoning your shirt.
The level and time of exposure to vibration will determine the amount of harm, and although you can prevent damage, you cannot undo the damage once you develop the syndrome.
Precautions to limit vibration exposure
You can protect yourself from vibration harm by limiting exposure. The following additional precautions might also help you to manage the risks:
- Never work with tools that are in bad condition. A proper maintenance program can limit the vibration level of handheld tools.
- Be selective when choosing tools. Test them first and avoid using those that cause numb fingers after a short time.
- Choose the most efficient tool. The one that will do the job in the shortest time, even if the vibration is more powerful, will limit exposure time.
- Avoid a forceful grip if it is not necessary. Holding the tool loosely can reduce the vibration of your hands.
- Although the more powerful tool can do the job quicker, it is crucial to limit exposure by operating it for short periods with frequent breaks to do other tasks. Excessive vibration can reach dangerous levels within eight minutes.
- Contact with freezing handles can be harmful. Make sure your hands are dry and warm and avoid leaving power tools outside rather than in proper storage areas indoors.
Will workers' compensation cover HAVS?
Although HAVS is a recognized occupational injury, you might have trouble convincing your employer or the insurance provider that your condition is work-related. However, an experienced Pennsylvania workers' compensation attorney can assist with the complicated claims process. With the lawyer's support and guidance, you might secure benefits to cover all your medical expenses along with lost income if HAVS caused temporary disability.