When a doctor says “You have hand-arm vibration syndrome” many patients laugh, thinking that the doctor is trying to make a joke. However, hand-arm vibration syndrome is a real medical condition that impacts thousands of American workers.
What Is Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome?
Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is a disorder that is both painful and potentially disabling. The disorder has three main aspects:
- Peripheral neuropathy in the hands – nerves in the area become damaged.
- Raynaud’s disease – this means the blood vessels in the hands will narrow when a patient is cold or stressed
- Muskuloskeletal issues – the numerous muscles that allow us to move our hands and wrist become weak. This weakness then leads to decreased use, which in turn can weaken the bones in the area, also from lack of us.
The most common symptoms of HAVS include tingling, numbness, and loss of dexterity in the hand. Since the blood vessels also tend to become damaged, the area will have poor circulation which can give the hand either a white or blue appearance, depending on whether blood is pooling or simply not reaching the hand. Lastly, musculoskeletal issues can manifest as weakness or pain in the hands, wrists, forearms, and/or elbows.
How Does A Patient Get HAVS?
The name of the medical disorder comes from the type of work that causes patients to develop HAVS – continued exposure to vibrations. Workers that frequently work with jackhammers, drills, polishers, needle guns, sanders, axle grinders, chainsaws, concrete vibrators and levelers, chipping tools, riveters, and lawnmowers are all at risk of developing HAVS.
The careers that most commonly suffer from HAVs includes:
- Construction workers
- Foundry employees
- Engineers who regularly engage with heavy equipment
- Quarry workers
- Household cleaners
- Different types of public workers
- Public utility employees
Other Health Conditions Can Arise
While on its own HAVS is already a painful and debilitating condition, if the damaging behavior does not cease, the negative health ramifications may not only worsen but can also produce additional health complications.
For example, patients who suffer from HAVS are often likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, which is an inflammation of a nerve in the wrist that is widely recognized as an overuse injury.
How Is Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome Treated?
There is no real cure for HAVS, however, if caught early enough, some of the symptoms can be reduced by removing the exposure to the source of the vibration. Some medications can improve peripheral circulation, however, these medications are typically cardiac medications and may not be appropriate for every patient.
The following tips can help protect workers from developing HAVS:
- Teach workers to properly grip and use vibrating tools.
- Limit the time any worker has to spend actively using a vibrating tool.
- Allow for generous breaks between tool use.
- Keep hands warm during work.
- Continually update tools to newer versions that produce less vibration.
The bottom line is that a little education can go a long way towards preventing HAVS.
Workers’ Compensation For HAVS
You may have already gathered that, unfortunately, once a worker develops HAVS, the best course of action is to simply stop performing the tasks that caused the symptoms in the first place. Tragically, the fact of the matter is that many workers also need those same jobs to be able to sustain their families. If they cannot perform the duties, they will likely be fired and unable to earn a living wage. Fortunately, the workers’ compensation system often recognizes HAVS as a form of disability. As a result, individuals who have been diagnosed with HAVS may be eligible not only for workers comp but also for disability insurance (SSDI).
Nevertheless, filing a successful workers’ comp claim for HAVS or receiving disability insurance benefits can not only be complicated and laborious, but it’s also one that is often futile for those unfamiliar with the legal system. For this reason, it’s critical for individuals suffering from HAVS to discuss their options with an experienced attorney who can analyze their case and determine the best way to move forward.
If you’ve been diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) consider calling Schuster Law’s workers’ compensation lawyer for a free consultation. You have the right to seek justice and fight for the compensation you are owed.