Repetitive vibrations from equipment can cause damage to nerves and blood vessels.
If you’ve ever operated a jackhammer, air hammer, riveter, chain saw, power grinder or other handheld power tool that vibrates as you use it, you know how the vibrations can travel up your hands and arms. With regular use of these tools, those vibrations can do more than shake you like a bowl of Jell-O! Over time, they can damage your nerves and blood vessels, possibly leading to problems with your circulation and muscle tissue. The condition, known as hand-arm vibration syndrome, or HAVS, can make it difficult or impossible to work.
You may first notice some numbness or tingling in the tip of one or more fingers, a feeling that may come and go. The tips of the finger(s) may turn whitish when the hands are cold. This is a sign of damaged or collapsed blood vessels. Picking up even a hammer may become difficult due to pain and grip weakness resulting from nerve, blood vessel and muscle damage.
Prevention of HAVS is critical and these strategies may help.
- Find another way to do the work. Is it possible to automate it or use mechanical equipment instead? Is a different material or design solution possible?
- Invest in low-vibration and anti-vibration tools. These reduce the vibration that travels to the user’s body.
- Use damping techniques and vibration isolators. OSHA has information on these strategies for woodworking here.
- Size the tool for the job. Make sure it’s big and powerful enough to get the job done as quickly as possible to limit “vibration time.”
- Loosen your grip. Don’t grab the tool handle any harder than necessary to remain in control of the tool. Use a jig or suspension system when feasible.
- Keep hands warm and dry while on the job. Wear heavier gloves or even multiple pairs if necessary.
- Limit time on vibrating equipment. Take breaks to do other work.
- Keep tools well maintained. Tools should be in good working order. Excessive wear may cause vibration levels to be higher. A handle in good condition is important.
When it comes to worker health, there’s no such thing as good vibrations. Many workers and employers may not be aware of the risks of HAVS. Taking steps to prevent it is in the best interest of the employees and the business.
Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands.