Vibration from using power tools and other vibrating machinery can lead to the dangerous condition of hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) which, if left untreated, can potentially require the amputation of the fingers or hand, according to an expert in the area.
The condition is commonly experienced by workers who regularly use tools such as jackhammers, chainsaws, grinders, drills, riveters and impact wrenches, according to a Safe Work Australia fact sheet on HAVS and workers who use hammer action tools for more than 15 minutes each day are particularly at risk.
HAVS is a grouping of specific disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, ‘tennis elbow’ and painful ‘vibration white finger’ – when the fingers go white, usually triggered by years of exposure to vibration and prompted by cold conditions, said Brad Rodgers, product development manager of Pro Choice Safety Gear.
Symptoms may include tingling and numbness in the fingers, loss of strength or pain in the hands or arms.
These symptoms occur because exposure to vibration can cause disrupted circulation in the hand and forearm and/or damage to nerves and tendons, muscles, bones and joints of the hand and arm, according to Safe Work Australia.
Furthermore, damage caused by excessive exposure to vibration is irreversible, but it is preventable with simple and cost effective measures.
Many modern tools have a vibration magnitude rating (in m/s2) that enable the determination of the level of vibration users are subjected to during use, said Rodgers.
However, the m/s2 quoted by manufacturers pertains to an “as-new” tool and that age and wear of a tool and accessories may potentially double the vibration output figure.
Eliminating or reducing exposure to vibration is described by the HSE as the most efficient and effective way of controlling exposure, while health surveillance is vital to detect and respond to early signs of damage.
It also describes inaction as potentially resulting in significant costs to both employers and employees.
The 2012 Safe Work Australia HAVS fact sheet states that while there are no mandatory exposure levels in Australia, workers and their employers can be led by European mandatory requirements recommending that daily vibration exposure should remain below 2.5 m/s2 averaged over an eight hour day and never more than 5 m/s2 over an 8 hour day.
Other research has found that a range of anti-vibration gloves adhering to ISO 10819 reduced the user’s exposure to vibration, said Rodgers.
Additional research has also found evidence that an anti-vibration safety glove adhering to ISO 10819 offered protection from vibration, particularly at high frequencies.
As such, it makes sense that anti-vibration gloves are used along with other measures to minimise exposure to vibration, according to Rodgers, who said there are a number of steps employers can take to reduce exposure: