Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome

Source: Hynek Gazsi - 123RF

Electrical employees use a variety of tools, such as powered hammers, chisels, chainsaws, sanders, grinders, riveters, breakers, drills, compactors, sharpeners, and shapers, which may result in hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) (sometimes called Raynaud’s phenomenon of occupational origin or vibration white finger disease).

HAVS is a chronic, progressive disorder with a latency period that can vary from a few months to several years. The early stages of HAVS are usually reversible if further exposure to vibration is reduced or eliminated.

According to the CDC, the major health problems associated with the use of vibrating tools are peripheral vascular and peripheral neural disorders of the fingers and hands.for advanced stages, treatment is usually ineffective, and the disorder can progress to loss of effective hand function and necrosis of the fingers.

Therefore, prevention is critical.

A British company that makes and repairs aerospace components, Nordam Europe Limited, has been fined about $509,000 after a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation showed its workers were exposed to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Cardiff Crown Court heard how about 100 employees of the company were exposed through their use of hand-held vibrating tools, such as orbital sanders, rivet guns, grinders, and drills, for years, causing them to develop HAVS.

The investigation found the company should have carried out a suitable assessment of work activities that exposed employees to vibration and should have implemented additional controls to reduce exposure so far as was reasonably practicable. It also should have had the workers undergo health surveillance to identify symptoms at an early stage of the disease, before it could progress to a disabling condition.

At least 30 employees were exposed to risk of significant harm, HSE reported.

In the United States, an estimated 1.5 million workers use vibrating tools. The prevalence of HAVS in worker populations that have used vibrating tools has ranged from 6% to 100% (1).

Development of HAVS depends on many factors, including the level of acceleration (vibration energy) produced by the tool, the length of time the tool is used each day, the cumulative number of months or years the worker has used the tool, and the ergonomics of tool use.

OSHA has provided an Ergonomics eTool, “Solutions for Electrical Contractors”. Adherence to the control measures and medical monitoring practices recommended in this document should prevent or greatly reduce the potential for vibration-exposed workers to develop HAVS.