Belsky Weinberg & Horowitz, LLC A Personal Injury & Workers’ Compensation Law Firm

Protecting workers from hand-arm vibration syndrome

According to a Maryland occupational vibration consultant, approximately 2 million U.S. workers are exposed to hand-arm vibration hazards on the job each year. As many as 50 percent of them will develop a condition known as hand-arm vibration syndrome, or HAVS.

Primarily an issue in manufacturing and construction environments, HAVS was first identified among limestone quarry workers using air hammers in 1918. The disorder is caused by continuous exposure to vibrating tools, which can damage blood vessels and nerves in a worker's hands. Typical symptoms include a weakened grip and numbness, tingling, pain and loss of color in the fingers. In extreme cases, gangrene may set in.

According to experts, HAVS is likely the top neuromuscular disorder among manufacturing and construction workers, but it is sometimes misdiagnosed because of its similarity to carpal tunnel syndrome. Anyone who regularly works with power tools is at risk, including those who work in maintenance, mining and forestry. Tools such as grinders, drills, riveters, jackhammers and chainsaws have been linked to HAVS.

In order to prevent the disorder, safety experts recommend that employers purchase tools with lower handle vibration, limit workers' daily exposure to power tools and properly train workers on vibration hazards. Workers are encouraged to keep their hands warm, grip tools as lightly as possible, use certified ISO 10819 gloves, take frequent breaks, properly maintain power tools and seek medical attention at the onset of HAVS symptoms.

Maryland employees who have suffered workplace injuries may be eligible to file for workers' compensation benefits, which cover medical expenses and a portion of their salary as they recover. Some workers find it helpful to consult with an attorney as they prepare their claim to ensure all necessary documentation is included.

Source: Safety and Health, "Hand-arm vibration syndrome," Sarah Trotto, Oct. 25, 2015

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