Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome Claims
Numerous occupations pose a higher risk to workers for specific medical conditions. Employers have a legal duty to minimise the likelihood of health complications arising from work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports that as many as 2 million people are at risk of developing a condition known as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome in the UK because of their jobs.
It is believed that up to one in ten people who work with vibrating tools on a regular basis will develop Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome. The majority of claims that are made because of this complaint are related to prolonged and repeated use of vibrating power tools.
If an employer does not take reasonable steps to minimise this risk and protect their employees, a Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome claim may be made against them should health conditions arise as a result.
Symptoms of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome
Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome is caused when the nerves, joints and blood vessels are damaged through the prolonged use of vibrating tools. The areas affected are the hand, wrist or arm and the condition can cause significant restrictions to mobility, as well as considerable discomfort and pain.
The initial symptoms of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome are losses of sensation as the nerve damage is usually the first noticeable sign. After that, other symptoms will arise. The condition is likely to become progressively worse, particularly if the patient continues to use vibrating tools.
Some of the most common symptoms of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome include:
- Tingling and loss of feeling in the fingers
- Weakness in the hands
- Weakened sensation in the fingers
- Restricted mobility in fingers, wrist and arms
- Changing colour of the fingers. In most instances, the tips of the affected fingers will become pale and then go red
- Pain in the affected area
Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome can have a significant impact on a person’s life, making it particularly difficult for them to carry out normal daily tasks. It can cause great difficulties in more intricate activities such as undoing shirt buttons, threading a needle and handling coins.
The HSE highlight that the causes of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome are preventable, but once the condition arises it is permanent. It is therefore imperative that all possible action is taken to minimise risk and prevent the complaint from developing. This responsibility is shared between both the worker and their employer. The employer, in particular, has legal obligations to take necessary steps to prevent avoidable injuries and illnesses from occurring in the workplace.
Occupations at Highest Risk of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome
Any person who regularly uses hand-operated tools that vibrate may suffer from this condition. However, some occupations pose a higher risk to workers than others. Some of the most common job roles linked to this medical complaint include:
- Builders and construction workers
- Road workers
- Factory workers
- Forrest workers
- Tree surgeons
- Technology teachers
Those who work with any of the following tools on a regular basis are most likely to suffer from Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome:
- Hammer action tools, such as SDS and combi-action drills, for more than 15 minutes daily
- Floor polishers and scrubbing tools
- Rotary tools and other action tools for over an hour each day
Employer Duty of Care and Legal Protection for Workers
The law protects people who work with vibrating tools through the implementation of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. The Act sets out that employers are legally responsible for the welfare of their staff and must protect them against risks.
Through the Act, employers are required to minimise the likelihood of developing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome when a job demands the use of vibrating tools and machinery. To do this, the Regulations stipulate that employers should:
- Give employees regular breaks when using vibrating power tools
- Ensure that the workplace temperature is maintained
- Ensure that workers have the right tools for the specific job in hand
- Providing workers with anti-vibration gloves for protection
- Ensuring that each employee has adequate training on the use of vibrating power tools and machinery
If an employer breaches their legal duty of care to staff and does not follow the contents of the Regulations, an employee who suffers a health complaint such as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome may be entitled to claim personal injury compensation.