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Five Fast Facts About Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), otherwise known as Vibration White Finger (VWF) affects hundreds of workers every year. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the symptoms until it is too late.  Caused by over-exposure to vibrating tools, damage is caused to the nerves, blood vessels and joints of the hand, wrist and arm.  HAVS is preventable, but once the damage is done, it is irreversible. Over-exposure to vibrating tools and machines can also cause Carpel Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).

HAVS and CTS can result in permanent pain and disability.  However, if your employer was negligent in protecting you from over-exposure to vibrating machinery, you may be entitled to compensation.  To help you understand the syndrome better, here are five fast facts about HAVS and the damage it can do.

Fact one – Certain machines greatly increase the risk of developing HAVS

If you regularly use hand-held or hand-guided power tools or machines, you are at risk of developing HAVS.  Regular operation of concrete breakers, chipping hammers, chainsaws, hedge cutters, grinders and needle guns can lead to the syndrome developing.

Your risk is increased if you regularly operate hammer action tools for more than 15 minutes per day or some rotary and other action tools for more than one hour per day.

Fact two – you need to seek medical advice if you develop any of the following symptoms

Without intervention, HAVS and CTS will only get worse.  Don’t ignore the following early warning signs:

  • tingling and numbness in the fingers (which can cause sleep disturbance).
  • not being able to feel things with your fingers.
  • loss of strength in your hands
  • the tips of your fingers going white then red and being painful on recovery when exposed to cold and wet conditions

If these early symptoms are not acted upon, the severity will increase.  Numbness in the hands can become permanent and you may struggle to pick up small objects.  The onset of winter is often dreaded by HAVS sufferers, as the cold increases the pain felt in the hands and fingers.

Fact three – HAVS impacts severely on the enjoyment of everyday life

You never miss what you have until it is gone.  Free use of our hands and fingers is something a majority of us take for granted.  For people who develop HAVS, it is the little things they miss.  For example, it can be frustrating having to wet your fingers every time you turn the page of a book because you can no longer feel the paper due to numbness.  Many sufferers have to forgo hobbies such as fishing and DIY as they can no longer pick up or manipulate small objects.  Even dressing yourself can become difficult.

Fact four – Employers have known about HAVS for decades and should have preventative procedures in place

The beginning of 1976 is most often the date that most employers are deemed to have become liable in over-exposure to vibrating tools, but this is not fixed and turns on the circumstances of a particular employer.  For example, in the British Coal Corporation cases, it was decided that by 1st January 1973 British Coal should reasonably have known that working with vibrating tools presented a foreseeable risk of HAVS.  By 1st January 1975 they should have realised that precautions in the form of warnings, system and routine examinations ought to be taken and by 1st January 1976 they should have put an appropriate system of job rotation in place.

Why are dates important?  Because symptoms of HAVS may not develop for many years.

Employers must comply with the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 (the Regulations).  Under the Regulations, employers are required to:

  • make sure that risks from vibration are controlled;
  • provide information, instruction and training to employees on the risk and the actions being taken to control risk; and
  • provide suitable health surveillance. 

Exposure action and limit values are also defined in the Regulations.  They are based on a combination of the vibration at the grip point(s) on the equipment or work-piece and the time spent gripping it. The exposure action and limit values are:

  • a daily EAV of 2.5 m/s2 A(8) that represents a clear risk requiring management; and
  • a daily ELV of 5 m/s2 A(8) that represents a high risk above which employees should not be exposed.

Employers have a duty under the Regulations not to exceed the ELV and reduce exposure to as low as is reasonably practicable if it is above the EAV.

Fact five – If your employer breaches his or her duty, you can claim compensation

If you have developed HAVS or CTS and can show that your employer did not abide by the Regulations, you may be entitled to claim compensation.  Likewise, if you developed symptoms that have led to permanent damage to your hands and/or fingers and you can track your exposure back to the mid-1970s, you may also have a claim.

Historic claims may be time-barred, as the Limitations Act 1980 limits the time to bring a claim for personal injury to three years.  However, under section 33 of the Limitations Act 1980, the court has a broad discretion to allow a personal injury claim to continue, even if it is not brought within the time restriction.  Because HAVS symptoms can present long after over-exposure to vibrating tools and/or machinery and in the past doctors often misdiagnosed the syndrome, it is possible for successful claims to be brought, despite exposure occurring many years ago.

If you are suffering from HAVS or CTS, you need to seek professional legal advice as soon as possible.

At IBB, our industrial injuries team, led by Alan Jolliffe, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent sufferers of HAVS and CTS.

Let us help you seek compensation by phoning us on 0333 123 9099, emailing us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions we have with you will be in the strictest of confidence.

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