Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome occurs in people who work with vibrating equipment for a long time, such as in construction. The bones, muscles, blood vessels and nerves of the arm, hand and fingers are damaged. There is often clearly visible damage to the fingers. Recovery can occur spontaneously, but treatment is more difficult. The disease falls under RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury).

Working with vibrating equipment

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is a typical occupational disease and mainly occurs in people who work with vibrating equipment for a long time as part of their profession. Consider a vibrating plate, a jackhammer, leaf blower, stapler, demolition hammer or other devices that produce vibrations and are held by hand. The vibrations of the device shake blood vessels and nerves, but also muscles, tendons or bones in the arms and hands so hard that damage occurs. This damage is often irreparable.

Risk factors

Certain people are more likely to develop Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) than others. This has to do, among other things, with the length of time that the vibrating device is used. The vibration level is also decisive. Not all devices produce the same vibration. If the device also requires severe squeezing, the risk is even higher. Many devices work with a security function using a squeeze button. A button or lever must be pressed or squeezed for the device to operate. The device stops immediately when the lever or button is released. This is for safety: should someone fall down or faint, the device will stop immediately. This security feature has the disadvantage that employees have to squeeze the vibrating device for a long time. Muscles are therefore tense and more vulnerable to vibrations.
Working in a cold and damp environment will often worsen the complaints. Most people who work with vibrating equipment work in construction or in the green field (including gardeners), pavers, forestry, agriculture, transport, fishing, etc. Avoiding this working environment is then impossible. Smoking also plays a role: smokers generally develop complaints much sooner.

Symptoms of HAVS

HAVS is often not suspected, even when working with vibrating equipment for a longer period of time and multiple complaints occur in the arm or hand. HAVS can be said to exist if the symptoms cause complaints at least four days a week. The following symptoms may indicate that it is HAVS:

  • Whitening of the fingers because the blood supply is restricted. The nails can turn purple or blue. This is called Raynaud’s phenomenon.
  • A numb or tingling feeling in the hands and/or arm, especially the forearm.
  • Numbness in the hands, making it difficult to touch or grip objects.
  • The fingertips show signs of tissue dying.
  • Pain in the arm, hand and/or fingers.
  • The complaints do not disappear with rest.
  • The complaints are aggravated by cold and moisture.

The above complaints can occur simultaneously, but sometimes only one or two of the symptoms occur. The greater the damage , the worse the complaints will become. If you suspect HAVS, stop working with vibrating equipment and discuss the complaints with your employer and a doctor.

Treatment and recovery from the disease

The problem with HAVS is that it cannot be cured. Rest does not reduce the symptoms. Treatment is not yet possible. However, it can help to stop working with vibrating equipment to prevent complaints from worsening. Avoiding cold and damp environments is also recommended. When the complaints become worse, less and less cold will be needed to provoke an attack (white deaf fingers). Employers must ensure that their employees do not work with heavily vibrating equipment for too long. The more the device vibrates, the less time an employee can work with it. There are certain guidelines for this. Also be careful when using decent equipment at home. In general, people don’t work with these types of devices for very long, but don’t make it a daily hobby. Otherwise, take the necessary precautions.

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