Hand arm vibration syndrome (havs) is a condition that affects individuals that are chronically exposed to the use of hand-held power devices like drills and chain saws. The vibration is sometimes due to a disproportion in the power to weight ratio in these machines. The vibration in these tools is transmitted by direct contact from the equipment to the upper limbs. There is a progressive disruption the neural and vascular supply to the upper limbs also, the joints might be affected. This leads to an abnormally in both circulation and neural activity in the affected limbs.
One of the types of Hand arm vibration syndrome is known as vibration white finger. Vibration white finger affects the fingers of the hand. The terminal part of the digits look white due pallor and there is intense pain due to irritation of the nerves. Vibration white finger can cause dire irreversible changes in the fingers because they are the terminal part of the limbs and they receive no collateral blood supply. Any damage to the arteries supplying them leads to a permanent damage. There could be gangrene if the condition is chronic and this can lead to a permanent inability to use the fingers.
Also the small joints might be affected leading to multiple arthropathy. Hand arm vibration syndrome leads an inability to use the power grip. The individual can also complain of a loss of vibration sense due to a continual feeling of perceived vibration. The syndrome is a degenerative disease. It is closely associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – tingling sensation in the fingers due to compression of the nerves that supply the small muscles of the hand. Hand arm vibration syndrome is caused by chronic operation of power tools that vibrate at high frequencies.
Employers can protect their employees from this syndrome by ensuring that workers are not required to operate such handheld machineries that produce so much vibration for a prolonged period. Employers can also ensure that the right tools are used for the right purpose and that the machinery is serviced regularly so that the level of vibration emitted by the equipment is reduced. Employees are also required to take safety measures against chronic exposure to these power tools. They can wear shock-absorbing pads to protect their limbs from exposure to the vibration.
The use of alternate machinery is encouraged wherever this is possible. Machinery that produces vibration should be avoided as much as possible. Division of labour is also encouraged so that the jobs requiring the use of vibration tools are not assigned to just one person. It can be rotated among other workers so that the exposure to vibration is minimised. Also, the number of tasks performed with these tools can be reduced. Using the right clothing by the employers – especially warm clothes would improve circulation to the upper limbs. This would reduce the progression of the syndrome.
Also, the management should do well to order regular medical checkups to assess the well-being of workers who are exposed to these power tools so that signs and symptoms can be detected early and appropriate adjustments made to prevent further exposure. Education on the dangers of this syndrome is necessary, not only to the employees but also the employers this syndrome can be avoided if necessary precautions are taken to ward off the threat.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS): Hard Facts (2006). Norwich Union Services. Ref No 6021 (v5). http://www. nu-riskservices. co. uk accessed on 21st 0f May 2008.