Does your profession expose you to aggressive levels of vibrations for long periods? Do you use power tools such as stone cutters, weed eaters, brush cutters, chainsaws or basically anything that vibrates a lot? Does your fingers get numb or have a tingling effect after using those kind of tools for long periods (say lasting for a few days? If the answer is yes, then you can be a future candidate of what is known as the Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome.
First of all, just because your fingers get numb after using a power tool doesn’t mean you’ll be developing this syndrome.
The only defining characteristic will be whether you’re going to be exposed to such conditions in the future or not. If your profession requires you to work on such conditions, then over time, when exposed to such high levels of vibrations, you couldget affected by it.
One way of suspecting if your hands or fingers have or are beginning to develop the syndrome is to check whether your hands or fingers get numb even when not exposed to vibrations recently. If the answer is yes, then maybe you’re a candidate, maybe. The best way to know is to go and see a doctor.
What is Hand-arm Vibration?
Let me give a small background information first. An occupation physician called Alice Hamilton
traveled to England in 1918 to study a group of stone cutter workers. What he observed was that most of these workers have developed discoloration (they had become white and had lost their natural color) in their hands and fingers.
About 89 percent of these workers had the symptom. Dr. Alice’s research into the matter is what now we know as the Hand-arm Vibration syndrome, the existence of which is mainly due to damages occurs to blood vessels & nerves on your hand and the fingers. The reason is the high level of vibration exposure.
It is actually believed to be the No. 1 neuromuscular disorder among those that work in manufacturing, constructing and home and garden working environments.
Some people believe that if you use electric powered power tools then you’re somehow in the safety zone. It’s a misconception. While it could be true that on some cases (I’m no expert in engines) an electric motor produces low levels of vibrations compared to a petrol or a gas powered mechanical engine. But as long as there are high levels of vibrations, Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome is still a possibility.
How long does it take to Develop?
According to the researched data, it could take anywhere from six months to a year for the symptoms to be fully developed. The risk of the syndrome is that after it’s fully developed, it’s irreversible. That is why it is very important to prevent it before it reaches the point of no return. And for that, workers should be educated, it should be brought to their attention & awareness.
What Can I do about it?
Well, the easiest thing you can do to prevent it is to change your job. Change it into something where you do not have to work in such conditions. Although, not everyone will be able to make such choices. In fact, only a handful of people could be able to pull it off. Others may have come too far and their journey could have been a costly one too (some courses where they train people to use these kind of machines are not exactly cheap.
In those instances the only that is left is to take precautions. They can be things the individual can do and things that you can ask from your employee, such as to provide you with high quality machinery, built to meet industry’s safety standards.
You can Personally Do things like…
Before you use your brush cutter, chainsaw or whatever that you’re required to work with, make sure to wear a glove that is made to reduce the incoming vibrations. Their effectiveness however is questionable because according some researchers, same gloves can either reduce or actually increase the incoming vibrations from the power tool to the hand, depending on the frequency level of the vibration.
For instance, if the vibration level of your equipment (you should be able to find it in the manual. If not, contact the manufacturer) is below 25 hertz, then pretty much all ‘anti-vibration’ groves will be useless. Or the incoming vibration level is between 100 hertz to 300 hertz, then even without a glove, your hands will amplify it! (while there is no clear answer as to why this is, it could probably be due to their molecular structure of the materials of the human body).
That said, gloves can still be useful at reducing incoming vibrations by around 5 percent to 20 percent, the researchers noted. Whether to counter act the vibrations or not, you should still wear gloves for the sake of protecting your hands from other kinds of injuries anyway.
How do I know if the gloves meet the industry level standards?
Before buying a glove for gripping and handling your power tool (weed eater, chainsaw or whatever the tool you are working with) make sure they are tested and approved by ANSI 2.73/ISO 10819 standard. Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no clear industry standards for combating the HAVS, while other parts of the world such as in Europe Union have established good industry standards.
What are the other things I can do?
*. Make sure to take a break of 10-15 minutes for each hour of work.
*. Keep the hands warm (again, wearing gloves should help here).
*. Do not try to grip the tool too hard. While this is not always possible, try grip as loosely as possible, without sacrificing your safety of course.
*. Make sure the tool is well kept. If you notice higher levels of vibrations than usual, check the power tool (it could be because of a lose part).
*. Refrain from smoking.
*. Massage your hands and the fingers with some natural oil after work. Massaging the hands with moderately warm oil should help to increase the blood circulation.
And if you develop the symptoms, then please seek immediate medical attention.