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Operators of vibrating hand-held equipment risk irreversible HAVS

Jackhammer worker.jpeg

Are you one of the millions of workers in Minnesota and other states who risk developing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome? If you spend hours each day holding a vibrating jackhammer or other hand-held tools, you might want to learn more about HAVS. "White Finger" is another name for this condition.

It is not entirely clear how the vibration of hand-held tools causes HAVS. However, the tingling, numb feeling is believed to result from repetitive microscopic injuries to the blood vessels and nerve endings in the fingers. Even if your co-workers or employer tell you that it is your imagination, you would be wise to see your doctor at the first sign of tingling or a "pins and needles" sensation. HAVS is irreversible, and it could cause the loss of feeling in your fingers, hands and arms. This syndrome could easily compromise your ability to work.

How can HAVS affect you?

If you operate vibrating tools like a pneumatic drill, chainsaw, power drill or jackhammer, it could affect you in the following ways:

  • Your grip strength could dramatically decrease. 
  • You lose dexterity. 
  • You develop numbness in your hands. 
  • Once you have HAVS, it could increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and arthritis.
  • HAVS and any of these other conditions could leave you with chronic pain.
  • Without early intervention, you could lose function in your arms, hands and fingers.
  • Mundane tasks like buttoning your shirt or holding a glass of water will become difficult or even impossible.
  • Left to develop into an advanced stage, HAVS could cause tissue damage and, ultimately, gangrene.

How can you prevent it?

Remember, HAVS is irreversible, and your only chance of escaping it is prevention. Take the following mitigating steps to stay safe:

  • If you have the option, always choose the tool with the lowest vibration or no vibration at all.
  • Inspect tools frequently and avoid working with damaged or defective equipment that might cause even more intense vibrations.
  • Always try to hold vibrating tools loosely instead of gripping them tightly.
  • Change your hold and position frequently.
  • Long, continuous use of vibrating tools is more damaging than short bursts. Allow yourself frequent breaks of at least 10 minutes each.
  • You could exacerbate the harm if you work with cold hands. Use protective gloves to keep your hands warm and avoid the cold air coming from the exhaust of a pneumatic tool.
  • Arrange a work schedule that rotates workers to do different tasks for shorter periods. This could prevent you from extended exposure to vibration hazards.

Your rights to worker's compensation

Not all employers prioritize employee safety, and you may not be able to take all the preventative steps. However, you may find comfort in knowing that the Minnesota workers' compensation program covers workplace illnesses and injuries. Proving that an injury such as HAVS is work-related can be difficult. Nevertheless, you have the right to seek the support and guidance of an experienced workers' compensation attorney who will advocate for you and will work to obtain maximum allowed benefits.

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