Even if you never suffer an on-the-job accident, construction work puts a lot of wear and tear on the body. And because certain injuries develop slowly over time, they sometimes get mistaken as just the normal effects of aging.
If you work in construction, though, there are a number of long-term health conditions you need to be aware of. One of the more common problems is a condition known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). It can have a devastating effect on the use of and sensations in the fingers, hands and arms.
What is HAVS and what causes it?
Every power tool creates vibration, either on purpose or as a byproduct of use. With handheld power tools, the vibrations are absorbed into the operator’s arms and hands. If exposure to vibration is minimal to moderate over time, health problems are unlikely to develop.
But repeated exposure to tool vibrations over many years can lead to a group of symptoms collectively called hand-arm vibration syndrome. The excess vibration causes damage to the muscles, nerves and blood vessels.
Symptoms and problems to watch for
Any of the following symptoms in your fingers, hands or arms could be signs of HAVS:
- Reduced sensitivity
- Numbness or loss of feeling
- A tingling sensation
- Weakened grip and loss of finger strength
- Hands turning white, starting at the fingers (also called blanching)
HAVS is progressive, meaning that it gets worse over time. At a certain point, its effects are irreversible. Because of this, prevention is crucial. If allowed to progress too far, the uncomfortable sensations, weakness and blanching could become permanent.
Are you at risk?
HAVS commonly impacts people who work in construction and demolition. But it also afflicts other workers as well, including those working in mining and forestry. Anytime you are exposed to prolonged vibrations from handheld power tools, HAVS is a risk.
Statistics show that up two 2 million workers in the U.S. have the potential to develop HAVS because of their frequent work with power tools. It is estimated that about 10 percent of such workers will develop symptoms.
Prevention is key
There are some effective strategies for reducing risk, including:
- Maintaining a light, relaxed grip on the power tool
- Wearing padded gloves or any other gear/equipment that could absorb some of the vibration forces
- Taking regular breaks when working with vibrating tools
- Keeping your hands warm if working in cold environments
- Refraining from smoking, as this puts additional stress on your cardiovascular system
Seek workers’ compensation benefits
HAVS isn’t commonly known among workers, but medical professionals have known about the disorder for decades. If you develop HAVS as a result of working construction or similar jobs, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. For more information, please discuss your case with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.