17th November, 2021

The HAVS Symptoms You Need To Spot Before It's Too Late

If you work with vibrating tools or equipment, you need to act fast to spot and prevent the early symptoms of HAVS. Because once symptoms start to develop, they are permanent. Hand-arm vibration syndrome cannot be reversed or cured. Here are the early warning signs you need to look out for...

The HAVS Symptoms You Need To Spot Before It's Too Late header image

HAVS (hand-arm vibration syndrome) is caused by exposure to vibration. If you hold vibrating tools, equipment and materials as part of your job could be at risk.

HAVS isn't an illness as such. It's the result of damage to nerves, blood vessels and joints caused by vibration exposure. This damage happens over time. The higher the level of vibration, the faster the damage develops.

Find out more in our blog post What is HAVS? Get To Grips With Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome

While the symptoms of HAVS can be prevented, they cannot be cured. So once symptoms start to develop, they are permanent and can't be reversed.

So it is vital to spot HAVS symptoms early. Or, ideally, prevent them from developing in the first place. If symptoms do appear, quick action is needed to delay or prevent the symptoms from getting worse.

At its worse, HAVS is a painful and disabling condition, preventing you from working, sleeping and even picking up or holding things.

Early symptoms

These are some of the early signs of HAVS, and the sooner you spot them, the better chance you have of preventing the condition from getting worse.

You might suffer from one or all of the symptoms of HAVS, but if you have any of the symptoms on our list, you need to take action to eliminate or reduce your exposure to vibration.

Some of these symptoms might come and go at first, and only occasionally bother you. But if you ignore them, and don't look at how you can control your vibration exposure, they are likely to occur more often and become worse, until they are permanent.

Here are the HAVS symptoms you need to spot before it is too late:

Tingling Fingers

One of the first signs of HAVS you might notice is tingling in your fingers or hands. It might come and go, and you may notice it more at night or after using vibrating equipment.

Numbness

You might get a sense of numbness, like a dead leg, but in your hands and fingers. It can be uncomfortable and cause sleep disturbance. Again, this might come and go, but it is likely to become more frequent as HAVS develops.

Loss of strength

Another early sign of HAVS is a loss of strength in your hands. You might notice your grip becomes weaker. You might struggle to pick things up and hold on to them.

White finger

Vibration white finger may affect one or more of your fingers. This HAVS symptom is likely to occur in the cold and wet and will see the tips or more of your finger(s) going white or very pale. On recovery, the affected finger(s) will go red and be painful.

Developed symptoms

If you recognise any of the signs of HAVS on our list of early symptoms, you need to take action.

If you continue to use high-vibration tools your symptoms will probably get more serious and remember, you cannot reverse the damage, once it gets worse, it stays worse.

workers hands

At this stage, many people they are not able to work or have to alter their job as they are unable to perform the tasks they did before. And it's not just work that is affected, but also hobbies and quality of sleep.

Here are some of the more developed symptoms of HAVS that could impact your life if you don't stop it in time:

Permanent numbness

The numbness that used to come and go will become permanent. You won't be able to feel things with your hands and fingers at all. You might struggle to push buttons and find you drop things more often.

Loss of grip

Your grip will continue to get weaker. You will find picking up small objects such as screws or nails difficult, partly due to the numbness, and also due to the loss of strength in your hands.

Advanced vibration white finger

Vibration white finger will happen more often and to more of your fingers.

Catching HAVS early

We mentioned earlier that HAVS is preventable, but you need to spot it early so you can stop the damage to your hands and fingers from getting worse. Once you spotted symptoms of HAVS, what should you do?

The first thing you should do is assess the ways you are exposed to vibration.

Did you know there are legal limits to the amount of vibration you can be exposed to at work? Find out more about how to calculate the exposure action value and how to calculate the exposure limit value.

At work, employers have a responsibility to protect workers from HAVS. Regular health checks will help to flag any issues. But you should also make sure that workers are aware of the symptoms to look out for, so they can report any symptoms without delay.

worker using concrete breaker

Look for ways your job could be done differently without using vibrating tools and machines.

If you can't eliminate vibration from a work process, you can look at reducing vibration exposure. This can be done through:

You can limit the time (duration) spent exposed to vibration. This can be done by limiting the time you spend in contact with vibration, by implementing job rotation and regular breaks.

And you can also reduce the vibration levels people are exposed to. Use the right tool for the job, select equipment with lower vibration output and keep the tools you use maintained and sharp.

You can also reduce risks by keeping good blood circulation to your hands, keeping them warm and dry, keeping tools stored in a warm and dry place, massaging and exercising hands and fingers, and even giving up smoking.

You can check if your vibration exposure is within legal limits, and calculate exposure for one or multiple tools with our free HAVS calculator.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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