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Struggling to button your shirt? It might be HAVS

Millions of workers nationwide, including many in Des Moines and across Iowa, risk suffering long-term health problems caused by hand-arm vibration syndrome. Also known as HAVS, it is a debilitating repetitive strain condition that develops from frequently working with vibrating machines or tools. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, HAVS is a collective term for musculoskeletal, vascular and neurological disorders in the hands and arms.

Who is at risk of HAVS?

Workers in the following industries are at significant risk of developing this condition:

  • Mining
  • Construction
  • Maintenance
  • Forestry
  • Automotive
  • Agriculture
  • Transportation

The tools that produce dangerous levels of vibration in the hands and arms include jackhammers, chain saws, grinders, drills, riveters and more. Electric tools, or those driven by gasoline or air, pose the same hazards.

Symptoms of HAVS

Workers in these industries and others exposed to vibrating tools should look out for the telltale symptoms. However, by the time the symptoms appear, it is already too late to stop the damage. It could start with numbness and tingling in the fingers, but as the condition progresses, pain and discoloration will develop in the fingers. Blood vessels and nerve damage will cause a weakened grip.

One or two fingertips usually show discoloration or blanching. The condition could then spread to more fingers. It might start in one hand and then the opposite hand later. HAVS, or vibration white finger, can ultimately develop in Raynaud’s syndrome. It is irreversible, resulting from the collapse of the blood vessels in the fingers. It leaves victims unable to do the most basic things like buttoning their shirts and gripping their toothbrushes.

Victims of Raynaud’s syndrome in Iowa might find comfort knowing that the workers’ compensation insurance system will have their backs. Their medical expenses and a percentage of lost wages will form a part of the benefits. Furthermore, if HAVS leaves them with a permanent disability, additional benefits might be awarded.