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Risks of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome for Landscaper and Arborist Workers

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Could your team be at risk of Hand-Arm Syndrome? It is more common in the landscaping and construction business than any other profession.

Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome, or HAVS, is “the medical term for symptoms caused by vibration damages that may occur in the fingers, hands, and arms when working with vibrating tools or machinery.” The chainsaw has been linked to HAVS symptoms.

Discovered back in 1918 by occupational physician Alice Hamilton, HAVS has been affecting those in the landscaping and construction industry for years.

Nearly 2.5 million U.S. workers are exposed daily to hand-arm vibrations through the use of power tools and as many as half will develop HAVS, as stated by Occupational Vibration Consultant Donald Wasserman.

Symptoms can occur in as little as a few months or as long as several years in relation to exposure. People with HAVS may experience tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers, blanching or whitening of one or more fingers when exposed to the cold, and weakened grip due to nerve and blood vessel damage. In extreme cases, gangrene can occur.

In colder climates, works must be cautious to not mistake HAVS for frostbite, particularly in the beginning stages. Early attacks will last only a few minutes and without pattern, while long term exposure will increase the frequency, pain and duration. A tall-tail signs will be when symptoms occur in cool or warm weather, whether they are using a tool or not.

Why is this so detrimental? Long term reduced blood flow to fingers can cause the loss of touch perception and dexterity followed by nerve damage. There is currently no medical or surgical treatment for HAVS and its damages are permanent.

Preventative Methods:

  • Keeping cold exhaust air from air-filled tools away from the hands.

  • Use gloves that cover the fingers and are certified by ISO 10819

  • Damping techniques or using vibration isolators on equipment to provide the most effective protection

  • Keeping machines in proper working order

  • Arranging work tasks so vibrating and non-vibrating tools can be used alternately

  • Letting workers take 10 to 15 minute breaks for every hour using a vibrating tool

  • Training workers on vibration hazards as well as early signs and symptoms of HAVS

  • Advising workers to keep their hands dry and warm and to grip the tool lightly

  • Seek medical attention if HAVS symptoms appear.

"One of the simplest work practices is holding the tool with only the amount of force that’s required to keep it safely under control,"

- Mark Geiger, occupational safety and health manager with the Naval Safety Center Liaison Office, told Safety+Health Magazine.

"People who grip a tool with a death grip increase the vibration coupling. They also fatigue themselves more quickly."

How do you keep your team safe? Tell us in the forum.