While some safety hazards threaten Oklahoma workers in general, others are limited to specific occupations. If you work in the logging industry or as a road construction worker, you might be at risk of developing HAVS -- Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome. This condition threatens the health of any worker who handles vibrating equipment or tools.
If you are a frequent user of power tools such as a grinder, jackhammer, impact wrench, chainsaw or another hand-held tool that vibrates, you might be one of the estimated two million workers nationwide who could develop HAVS -- according to the US National Safety Council.
How does the damage occur?
HAVS is prevalent among industrial workers. Exposure to repeated and intense shaking or vibration can cause damage to your nerves, blood vessels and muscles, and it can harm wrist and arm joints. At specific frequencies, vibration can damage the delicate network of blood vessels in your hands and fingers.
Signs of damage
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is preventable. However, existing damage is typically permanent. The key factors that will indicate the risk level are the trigger time and vibration intensity per shift that you work. You might recognize some or all of the following signs of this condition:
- Initial symptoms: You may experience a tingling or needle-prick sensation in your fingertips at times, alternating with numbness that comes and goes.
- Advanced symptoms: Continued exposure will cause these symptoms to become permanent. This could cause problems when you have to handle small things like buttoning your shirt when you have no feeling in your fingertips. Furthermore, you could develop Raynaud's phenomenon, which causes pain when your fingers are cold or wet.
Precautions to reduce exposure
Although the most effective precaution is limiting the time of exposure to vibration, the following measures may help you to manage the risks:
- Check your hold: A loose hold on the handle -- when possible -- will absorb less vibration than a firm or grasping hold.
- Avoid cold handles: Keep your hands warm, even if you have to wear gloves rather than holding freezing handles. Avoid storing equipment outside overnight.
- Maintenance: Use only well maintained and frequently serviced power tools.
- Trigger time: When you select your equipment, keep in mind that a stronger tool may complete the job quicker than a lighter piece of equipment.
- Take frequent breaks: Work with vibrating equipment in short spells and alternate it with other jobs.
- Choose tools wisely: Test different tools for short spells, and choose the one that causes the least numbness in your fingers.
- Limit exposure time: Strong vibrations can cause harm in as little as eight minutes of continued exposure. If your job requirements exceed this limit, your employer must take measures to limit exposure.
Does workers' compensation cover HAVS?
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is a recognized as a severe occupational disorder. Although the Oklahoma workers' compensation insurance system covers all recognized workplace injuries and illnesses, proving that your condition is work-related might be challenging. Fortunately, an experienced workers' compensation attorney can navigate your benefits claim, increasing your odds of receiving your rightful benefits and allowing you to better focus on your recovery.