What is Vibration White Finger?
Vibration white finger (VWF) is also known as hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) and was first recognised in 1976. It is a physical problem usually the result of prolonged use of vibrating power tools in the workplace, such as pneumatic drills, or hand-held/handguided tools and is essentially an industrial ‘disease’. The continual vibrations can cause damage to the arteries and nerve endings, which accumulates over time to cause the condition which is permanent.
VWF is one of the most notorious of industrial diseases. There have been at least 305,000 cases reported, and each year there are around 3000 new cases. It is also the most commonly reported disease under the reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).
Thousands of claims were successfully made by workers in the coal mining industry, where vibrating power tools were used on a daily basis.
However, according to the Health and Safety Executive in 2015, the number of new claims for vibration white finger has been declining over the past decade.
If you work with these power tools for more than a few hours every day, the vibrations can cause neurological, vascular and joint damage to a person’s hands, wrist and arm. When a sufferer’s hands are cold, they may turn white and bright red when they return to a warmer environment, making them numb, tingle or throb. Pins and needles-type sensations may occur in the hands, and in more severe cases, extend up to the arms.
Unfortunately, the condition can be permanent, and it may mean that sufferers struggle to handle small or fiddly objects. It can also affect their ability to grip things. Sometimes the effects will last intermittently, while in other cases the effects will continue for hours, depending on the severity of the disease. In severe cases, the fingers can be permanently numb.
Employers are legally responsible to protect you against VWF, as well as carpal tunnel syndrome and other health risks in the workplace. If they fail to do so, you can make a claim for personal injury compensation if you develop a condition as a result. Employers are required by law to take reasonable precautions to minimise the risks, such as:
- Providing low vibration tools
- Giving workers regular breaks from using vibrating tools
- Ensuring that the handles of any tools are warm when they are used
- Protective clothing is provided (such as padded gloves)
- Training workers on how best to hold the tools
- Repairing tools immediately
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to carry out a risk assessment to establish ways of controlling the risk to their workers of suffering from a vibration injury. In addition, the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 give guidance to employers as to the Exposure Action Values and the Exposure Limit Values. The Exposure Action Values are the levels above which the employer must act to control the vibration risks and the Exposure Limit Values are the level at which daily exposure must be prevented.
If an employer fails in its duty of care towards its workers and an employee develops VWF as result, the victim can bring a personal injury claim against the employer. The condition must also be notified to the HSE under RIDDOR. The employee may also be eligible for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.