Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), formerly known as 'vibration white finger', is a condition caused by exposure of the hands and arms to vibration when using hand held tools (e.g. pneumatic drills, grinders, chipping hammers). It is not caused by whole-body vibration or sound.
HAVS has two main components: damage to the blood vessels, and damage to the nerves in the arm and hand. These manifest in the individual fingers going white (Raynaud's phenomenon) for periods of time when the hand is exposed to cold and also loss of sensation/'pins-and-needles' in the fingers. Damage to the blood vessels reverses to a certain extent after removal from exposure, but damage to the nerves is permanent.
In order to control the risks that cause this condition the UK Health and Safety Executive has brought in legislation called 'The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005', which came into force on 6 July 2006. These regulations introduce action and limit values for both hand-arm and whole-body vibration.
Despite this legislation, many employees in industry will be exposed to vibration levels which may cause damage. Improved tool design and maintenance, improved damping and reducing the level of time exposed to such tools will reduce the risk. Gloves keep the hands warm and thus will reduce the amount of blanching (whitening) experienced, but there is no evidence that they will prevent the condition.
To ensure that cases are caught early, a system of health surveillance is now mandatory for all employees exposed above the exposure action values.
For further information visit the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website at www.hse.gov.uk