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Not Such Good Vibrations

Aug 21, 2008
Have you worked in the construction industry or forestry? Are you a grounds man, a green keeper or professional gardener? Then your profession could triggered Vibration White Finger (VWF) or Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Anyone working with vibrating hand-held tools over a prolonged period, whether it's a lawnmower or a jackhammer, is potentially at risk of this painful debilitating disease.

Vibration White Finger is a secondary form of Raynaud's Disease, where fine blood vessels in areas like the fingertips, toes, ears and nose go into spasm. VWF is where the small blood vessels in the fingertips, often triggered by contact with the cold, go into spasm. The first symptom is a pins and needles sensation and loss of dexterity. The fingertip turns white as the vessels constrict and they may start to ache, as the vessels relax the fingertip becomes a dull red as the blood floods back.

If the circumstances don't change, attacks become more frequent and increasingly painful, affecting more fingers. In severe cases it leads to skin ulcers or gangrene especially when the work is outside in the cold and wet such as in forestry. The disease affects a huge range of occupations where hand-held vibrating machinery is used, from hedge-trimmers and chainsaws to angle grinders and riveters.

French miners first reported the symptoms of Vibration White Finger in the early 19th century after pneumatic tools were introduced. Professor Loriga recorded similar muscular spasms in the hands of Italian miners in 1911. Seven years later Dr Alice Hamilton identified the link between prolonged use of vibrating hand-tools and VWF in quarry cutters and noted that cold weather severely aggravated the condition.

Despite all this evidence it wasn't until 1975 that Dr Pelmear and Dr William Taylor developed the Taylor-Pelmear scale to measure the affliction. In 1980, following a research paper by Professor Mike Griffin of Southampton University, VWF became a prescribed industrial disease and the Health and Safety Executive started to examine measures to reduce the incidence of the disease.

By the early 1990's the difference between VWF, a mainly vascular complaint, and HAVS, which affects both blood vessels and nerves of the hand, wrist and arm, was defined. With all this medical evidence to draw on British Coal was taken to court by seven mine workers severely affected by the disease as a result of prolonged use of chainsaws and drills, the High Court awarded them 127,000. Subsequently the government set up a fund to settle any similar claims and because VWF is a recognized disease, workers affected may be eligible for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.

In 2002 the European Union passed a Directive governing the minimum health and safety requirements for workers exposed to vibrations. Exposure to vibrating machinery is measured as 'trigger time', the amount of time a finger is actually on the 'on button'. The design of the tool, its age and condition and the way it's used can vary these measurements enormously. The HSE published a list of tools and their vibration levels with a graph showing the safe limits of a workers daily trigger time.

If you have a history of working with vibrating hand-held tools and think you may suffer from VWF or HAVS, then get it diagnosed. Help yourself by keeping your hands as warm as possible to stop the arteries going into spasm. Some medicines may also help. If you smoke, quit, as this will improve your circulation. Finally stop or reduce the time you use the tools that may be causing the problem. Check what your 'trigger time' should be and ensure the equipment is in good order and used correctly, possibly update to a model that vibrates less. If the disease means you can no longer work or it's severely restricting your livelihood then explore pursuing a compensation claim.

For further information, please visit http://www.1stclaims.co.uk
About the Author
We deal in a range of claims, including personal injury claims and compensation. Please visit http://www.1stclaims .co.uk for further information.
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