Every industry, no matter the type of work, has certain limitations and potential pitfalls. Unlike a typical office job, however, the construction industry involves numerous dangers – some of which aren’t always obvious.

Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) can be a very real problem for construction workers. Because it’s not often talked about, HAVS can cause significant long-term problems before workers even realize what’s wrong.

What is hand-arm vibration syndrome?

Forceful vibrations can take a toll on the delicate muscle and nerve tissues of the hands and fingers. Construction workers who frequently use hand-held vibrating tools (such as power drills, handsaws, jackhammers and pneumatic drills) are especially prone to nerve damage. The vibrations can make it difficult for blood to reach the fingers. Over time, these problems can lead to loss of feeling and decreased function.

Symptoms to watch out for

Symptoms of HAVS can range from bothersome to quite painful. If you’re in the construction industry, and you work with vibrating tools on a regular basis, keep an eye out for:

  • A tingling sensation in your fingers or hands
  • Loss of feeling or numbness
  • Chronic aches and pains in the affected hands
  • Weakened muscles and decreased endurance

You may also experience “white finger” – or Raynaud’s phenomenon – when you touch a cold object or expose your hands to cold weather. Initially, your fingers may turn white and cool. They may turn blue after a few moments. Eventually, the fingers may become bright red and begin throbbing in pain.

Long-term effects of HAVS

As a construction worker, you rely on your hands and fingers to perform basic duties. A diagnosis of HAVS can jeopardize your livelihood. You may be advised to stop using vibrating tools. However, certain medications can help open up the blood vessels, and safety measures such as vibration-resistant gloves can help stop the disorder from progressing.

If you do end up unable to work because of HAVS, it’s important to know your rights. You may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.