Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), Vibration White Finger (VWF) & Ways to Minimize the Risk.

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)

Over-exposure to vibrating hand-held machinery can cause changes in tendons, muscles, bones and joints, and can affect the nervous system. Collectively, these effects are known as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).


Identifying signs and symptoms at an early stage is important for the effective treatment of HAVS. The following symptoms are common amongst Workers affected by HAVS:

  • Episodes of whitening (blanching) of one or more fingers especially when exposed to cold and wet. Fingers often become red and painful on recovery. At first this is usually more noticeable in the fingertips.
  • Pain and cold sensations between periodic white finger episodes.
  • Tingling and/or loss of sensation in the fingers.
  • Loss of light touch.
  • Loss of grip strength.
  • Bone cysts in fingers and wrists.

Vibration white finger(VWF)

Vibration white finger or vibration-induced white finger (VWF) is the vascular (blood and body fluid flow) component of HAVS. VWF is an industrial injury and classified as a form of Raynaud's syndrome.

VWF is characterized by episodes of blanching of fingers especially when exposed to cold. The other symptoms of HAVS such as numbness, tingling (parasthesia) and pain in the hands and fingers are now believed by many physicians to be a separate neurologic (nervous system) component of HAVS. The thumb is not normally affected. Smoking and stress may also aggravate the symptoms of HAVS.

The side effects of certain medications have been known to cause Raynaud's syndrome. In addition, various diseases, such as scleroderma, can have similar symptoms. These other causes must be ruled out before a diagnosis of VWF can be arrived at.

The symptoms of VWF are aggravated when the hands are exposed to cold. The development of HAVS is usually gradual and increases in severity over time. It may take a few months to several years for the symptoms of HAVS to become noticeable. HAVS is a progressive disease and when symptoms first appear, they may disappear after a short time. However, if exposure to vibration continues over months or years, the symptoms can become worse and become permanently present. In extreme cases, the sufferer may lose fingers.

Minimising Risk

If the use of vibrating hand-held machinery is necessary to complete a task, implementing the following points will help to minimize or reduce the risk of over-exposure to vibration:

Worker Comfort and Safety

Identifying signs and symptoms at an early stage is important for the effective treatment of HAVS. The following symptoms are common amongst Workers affected by HAVS:

  • Ensure workers are kept warm and dry.
  • If appropriate, consider ergonomic aids to support weight of tool and reduce forces applied by operator.
  • Provide regular breaks from work involving vibration and encourage operators to exercise fingers.
  • Rotate workers between tasks that require the use of vibrating tools and other tasks.

Selection of Work Equipment (Tools, Accessories, Consumables)

  • If available, use a tool with vibration reduction technology such as Power Tools range of UVP (User Vibration Protection) tools.
  • Ensure that tools are properly maintained and regularly PAT (Portable Appliance Testing) tested.
  • Ensure that high quality consumables and accessories are always used (drill bits, abrasive wheels etc.). Do not use worn out consumables and accessories.
  • Ensure that a suitable tool is used for the job. Selecting an unsuitable tool may require a longer job time and thus increase a worker's exposure to vibration.
  • Be aware of a tool's declared vibration emission value. Use this as a basis for which to make a risk assessment for vibration exposure and safe tool use time. To convert vibration emission values to trigger time,click here.
  • Use tools with good performance attributes - a tool with lower vibration values achieved by sacrificing performance may take longer to complete a task thus negating the benefits. Power Tools range of UVP (User Vibration Protection) tools combine vibration reduction technology with superior performance to provide an excellent tool choice.

Education and Health Surveillance

  • Educate workers in proper tool use and operation.
  • Educate workers about the effects and symptoms of HAVS, VWF and ways of minimising the risk of exposure. Early diagnosis is necessary for the effective treatment of the disease.
  • Provide workers with regular health checks.

Further Information - External Links

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