Vibration white finger is commonly abbreviated to VWF and is also called hand-arm vibration syndrome or HAVS. The condition affects the blood supply to the arms and hands. The blood vessels go into spasm, resulting in changes in colour and feeling. This can occur when the hands are cold or may occur spontaneously for no apparent reason.The fingers of the hand become cold and white and this frequently leads to pain.
In the early stages of the condition, sufferers usually notice a numbness or tingling sensation generally in the tips of their fingers. Other early symptoms may include loss of dexterity and loss of strength. Sufferers often also experience a reduction in their ability to detect changes in temperature or touch. Secondary conditions may also develop such as cysts in carpal bones, osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Vibration white finger may affect one or both hands. The condition is often caused by either repeated exposure to, or using vibrating equipment for lengthy periods. Individuals who use concrete breakers, pneumatic drills, angle grinders, sanders, grinders, needle guns, disk cutters or chainsaws over a prolonged period are at risk of developing the condition. The symptoms of the condition may appear after only a few months, but for some individuals it takes years. Once an individual has experienced symptoms of the condition, repeated exposure will worsen the condition and may lead to permanent damage.
Diagnosis of the condition requires evidence of exposure to vibration over a long period and digital pallor. VWF is a form of Raynaud’s syndrome and so a doctor would also need to rule out other possible causes of Raynaud’s phenomenon.
In 1985, HVAS or VWF was officially classified as an industrial disease. This means that individuals who suffer from the condition as a result of working with vibrating equipment over a number of years may be able to submit a claim for compensation from their employers. Employees should be aware, however, that an employer may insist that the employee was aware of the risks before he or she accepted the job. When the condition was first classified as an industrial disease only the vascular component was accepted, but it is now recognised as a complex condition which involves vascular, musculoskeletal and sensorineural problems. Problems do not only occur at work, or when the vibrating equipment is being used, the condition can also affect individuals outside of work and can interfere with hobbies and recreational activities.
An employer has a responsibility to eliminate sources of vibration or, if this cannot be done, should reduce it to the lowest level possible. One way of reducing the risk of employees developing the condition is through job rotation. The employer should also select well-designed equipment that will reduce vibration, provide sufficient and suitable training in the use of the equipment, limit the magnitude and duration of exposure, and provide adequate protective equipment to reduce exposure to vibration.
Exposure to vibration levels are generally measured over an eight hour period and may require a specialist engineer to carry out the assessment.
Accident Advice Helpline can provide expert advice on accidents and illnesses relating to work. Call free on 0800 689 0500 or 0333 500 0993 from a mobile phone for free, no obligation advice about making a claim.