HAVS (hand-arm vibration syndrome) is caused by exposure to vibration, particularly from holding vibrating tools, equipment and materials.
HAVS isn't an illness as such, but actually the result of damage to nerves, blood vessels and joints caused by vibration exposure.
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.
Spotting HAVS symptoms early is therefore vital, so action can be taken to delay or prevent the symptoms from developing. At its worse, HAVS is serious and disabling, preventing you from working, sleeping and even picking up or holding things.
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's too late:
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.
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 and first, but it's likely to become more frequent as HAVS develops.
Another early sign of HAVS is a loss of strength in your hands, meaning you struggle to pick up, hold, grip or lift heavy objects.
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.
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.
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 if you don't stop it in time:
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.
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.
Vibration white finger will happen more often and to more of your fingers.
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 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, it is your employer’s responsibility to protect you from HAVS, so you should report any symptoms and look at ways your job could be done differently without using vibrating tools and machines.
Alternatively, you can look at reducing vibration exposure.
This can be done by limiting the time you spend in contact with vibration, implementing job rotation and regular breaks.
And by limiting the vibration levels you are exposed to, through using the right tool for the job, selecting tools with lower vibration output and keeping the tools you use maintained and sharp.
You can also reduce risks by keeping good blood circulation to your hands, through 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.