Health and Safety legislation in Australia aims to limit and prevent the onset of vibration white finger (VWF) or hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) as it is now more accurately called.
What is Vibration White Finger?
Anyone who is regularly exposed to high levels of vibration can suffer permanent injury.
The construction industry has the second highest incidence of vibration white finger (VWF) injury.
There is no effective treatment; prevention is the only cure.
There are two common outcomes of frequent vibration:
- Whole body vibration (WBV) - the body is shaken by a machine or vehicle;
- Hand-arm vibration (HAV) - where the vibration effect is localised to a particular part of the body.
Exposure to hand-arm vibration can result in a range of health effects collectively known as ‘Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome’ or ‘HAVS’. The most well known is vibration white finger (VWF).
Other effects include damage to nerves, muscles and joints.
VWF is a prescribed disease. If you are an employee who has been affected, there is a change that you may be eligible for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. If you are suffering only mild symptoms you might be able to claim successfully through the courts.
Recent successful claimants have been awarded between $1,000 and $7,000.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of VWF include, but are not limited to:
- Headache and;
- "Shakiness" through to circulatory, bowel, respiratory, muscular and back disorders. WBV can be a particular risk to plant and machinery operators.
Employees most at risk are those who have used hand held powered tools such as:
- Concrete breakers, chipping;
- Hammers, jigger picks;
- Vibrating pokers;
- Sanders, angle grinders;
- Vibratory compactors;
- Hammer drills, jigsaws; and;
Symptoms of VWF include:
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers, often continuing after use of machinery;
- One finger temporarily turns white and may start to ache;
- The finger turns white more often;
- Other fingers begin turning white;
- After several fingers turn white, the disease is probably irreversible; the thumb is not usually affected;
- The sufferer experiences increasingly frequent painful attacks at any time;
- In extreme cases the sufferer may lose fingers - this is more likely when the worker is using vibrating machinery at very low temperatures.
They are worsened by in cold weather.
An employer’s duties
There are no specific duties that employers have to follow to reduce vibration risks at work; however, it is a good idea to carry out a risk assessment and establish controls of vibration injury risks.
Factors to be considered are:
- The amount of tool vibration;
- The length of time for which the tool is used;
- Establishing whether the tool is used continuously or intermittently;
- The temperature of the workplace;
- The work method;
- The ergonomics of the task;
- Each worker’s susceptibility to injury.
An employer has owes a duty of care to their employees to take reasonable care of their health and safety at work.
An employee also has a duty of care to look after themselves and fellow workers.
Where appropriate, an employee should:
- Ask the employer if a job could be done in a different way without using vibrating tools;
- Use low-vibration tools;
- Always use the right tool for the job;
- Ensure tools have been maintained and repaired to avoid vibration caused by faults and general wear;
- Keep cutting tools sharp;
- Reduce the amount of time you use the tool in one go, by doing other jobs in between;
- Avoid gripping or forcing the tools more than necessary;
- Store tools correctly so that they do not have very cold handles when next used.
And, encourage good blood circulation by keeping warm, giving up or reducing smoking, and massaging and exercising finger during breaks.