Unfortunately, instances of hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) are a common risk for many in the workplace but in cases where the condition has been caused by negligence you could have a claim for HAVS compensation.
What Is Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome?
In simple terms HAVS is a medical condition which occurs as a consequence of using vibrating tools/machinery in the workplace. The specific types of injury are split into three subcategories which are neurological disorders, vascular and musculoskeletal.
The early symptoms of hand-arm vibration syndrome tend to emerge as tingling or numbness in fingers and hands. While many people will ignore these symptoms as a consequence of tiredness or over work, if left to develop they can severely impair sensibility and limit dexterity. Unfortunately, fully developed neurological vibration injury is impossible to reverse and can have a significant impact upon the individual’s ability to work. In its worst form, simple actions such as pouring a glass of water, gripping or even inserting a key into a lock would become a challenge.
Thankfully, if these neurological symptoms are caught early enough they can be managed and some victims will make a full recovery.
The term vibration white finger relates directly to vascular injuries caused as a consequence of hand-arm vibration syndrome. One of the side-effects is damage to small blood vessels in fingers and hands causing them to constrict and reducing blood flow. This reduced blood flow, usually triggered by cold temperatures, changes the colour of the impacted skin area from pink to white. Even when the area in question returns to a more traditional temperature the increased inflow of blood to the area can also be extremely painful.
Read our advice on Vibration White Finger claims if you have this condition.
The musculoskeletal injuries associated with hand arm vibration syndrome claims are often difficult to diagnose because on the surface all may seem fine. However, medical tests show that the muscle fibres affected by the constant vibration when using work tools changes the make-up of muscle fibres and can lead to reduced grip. Other musculoskeletal disorders associated with hand-arm vibration syndrome include arthritis, tendinitis and a general reduction in mobility.
Detecting Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome
Over the last few years we have seen an improvement in well-being tests in the workplace. Where hand-arm vibration syndrome is an issue specific tests have been introduced to avoid permanent damage. Interestingly, it is something of a lottery as to whether an individual exposed to activities which could cause hand-arm vibration syndrome will actually develop the full medical condition. Some sufferers will see symptoms emerge after a number of years while others can work for decades in the same environment and feel no additional discomfort.
What we do know is that if hand-arm vibration syndrome, often referred to as vibration white finger (VWF) and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), is left to fully develop it is irreversible. If caught relatively early, changes can be made to working practices, physiotherapy will help and there are medical procedures which can also assist.
Common Symptoms Of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome
To summarise, we have listed the more common hand-arm vibration syndrome symptoms below:
- Tingling sensation in the fingers
- Fingers feeling numb
- Loss of sensation in the fingers
- Loss of hand strength and ability to grip
- White patches emerging on the top of fingers in cold weather
Employment Positions More Susceptible To Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome
The reality is that anybody who uses vibrating hand tools at work on a regular basis can develop various degrees of hand-arm vibration syndrome. However, over the years a number of more susceptible employment positions have emerged which involve specific equipment such as:
- Concrete breakers
- Sanding tools
- Disc cutters
- Angle grinders
- Powered mowers
- Hammer drills
- Hedge trimmers
- Industrial cleaning devices
In essence, those using any type of vibrating tools or machinery on a regular basis may be at risk of developing hand-arm vibration syndrome.
Safety In The Workplace
We know that all employers hold a legal liability to ensure the well-being of their employees while under their control. In relation to the use of vibrating machinery the authorities brought in new regulations in 2005 in the shape of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations Act. This specifically covers the use of vibrating machinery and attempts to make any danger from injury minimal and also make clear the obligations that employers have to their employees.
There are many ways in which the danger to an employee can be minimised including:
- Regular breaks for those using vibrating machinery and tool.
- The provision of anti-vibration gloves.
- Ensuring the correct tools are made available for specific tasks.
- Initial and ongoing training with regards to health and safety and in particular the use of vibration machinery, tools and equipment.
When making a claim for hand arm vibration compensation, proof of negligence is central and if your employer has breached the above regulations then you may well have a valid claim for compensation.
Gathering Evidence For A HAVS Claim
The symptoms of HAVS can in some cases take many years to emerge. Regular medical check-ups will help detect the problem but if you feel numbness and tingling in fingers or hands, and a reduced grip, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Once you seek medical attention your records will be updated with details of the examination, diagnosis and proposed treatment. Due to this now being noted on your medical records it can prove to be extremely helpful if you do decide to pursue a hand arm vibration syndrome compensation claim.
It is also worth noting that traditionally there is a three-year window in which to pursue a compensation claim which begins on the day of the injury. With hand-arm vibration syndrome the three-year window will begin when the condition has been officially diagnosed. In some cases this may be many years after the victim has left the employment market although doctors are now able to link the symptoms of hand-arm vibration syndrome with various working practices in years gone by.
In general, when seeking personal injury compensation, additional evidence such as photographs, witness statements, copies of employer accident books and a timeline of events would also prove very useful. It will obviously depend upon the individual HAVS claim but not all of these elements of evidence might be available further down the line. However, previous cases show that the ability to link symptoms of hand-arm vibration syndrome with the use of vibrating machinery is often enough to pursue a claim.
Work Injury Solicitors
If you believe you have a hand arm vibration syndrome claim you should consult with a personal injury solicitor, preferably one who specialises in work injuries for expert advice. Hand-arm vibration syndrome in its numerous forms has been a hot topic for many years and because of this work injury solicitors will be fully aware of the level of proof required. In some circumstances your solicitor may request a further medical examination by an appointed specialist to clarify specific issues prior to lodging a HAVS claim.
If your solicitor concludes there is a strong claim to HAVS compensation they will probably offer to take the claim on with a No Win No Fee arrangement in place. This will effectively remove the liability for you to cover the legal fees should the claim be unsuccessful. A “success fee” however will be required (which is at most 25% of the compensation settlement) if the claim’s successful. As with any legally binding agreement the claimant should always understand fully what they will be expected to pay in all circumstances.
Lodging A Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome Claim For Compensation
Once an agreement has been reached with your solicitor then your HAVS claim will be lodged with the courts. Details of the claim and evidence will be made available to the defendant and where negligence is reasonably clear-cut there may well be a settlement amount put forward so as to avoid court proceedings. An out-of-court settlement will ensure that the defendant minimises their legal expenses, the claimant is paid HAVS compensation sooner rather than later and what can be a very difficult and challenging period for all parties is brought to a prompt conclusion.
There will be occasions where negligence is opposed or perhaps there is more than a single potentially negligent party, at which point the hand arm vibration syndrome claim will go before the courts and a judge will make a ruling based on evidence provided by all parties.
Elements Of HAVS Compensation
It is worth reminding ourselves that there are two specific elements of compensation available to those pursuing hand arm vibration syndrome claims. They are referred to as general damages and special damages and cover very specific areas of a HAVS compensation claim.
General damages are financial compensation for issues directly related to the medical condition such as:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Life changing injuries
- Physical impairment
- Mental trauma
- Physical disfigurement
The courts, insurance companies, law firms and others regularly use information provided by the Judicial College which brings together historic compensation awards for various types and severity of injuries. Even though these guidelines have no legal standing they are often used as a basis on which to calculate compensation for individual cases. There is also a degree of discretion/variation available to the courts and insurance companies which ensure any compensation awarded will reflect the individual nature of a claim.
The second element of compensation is known as special damages and is in basic terms financial redress for costs incurred and future costs expected because of the hand-arm vibration syndrome. Specifically this includes:
- Loss of wages/income (past and future)
- Adaptions to the home
- Medical expenses (both past and future due to the injury)
- Additional travelling expenses
These lists are by no means inclusive but they do give you an idea of the kind of expenses which are covered by general and special damages. It is worth noting that there is no variation or discretion when it comes to the special damages element of any compensation award.