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Vibration Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

If you work in construction or other type of industry that involves the use of vibrating tools, developing vibration syndrome may be a risk. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that roughly 1.2 million American workers are potentially exposed to hand-arm vibration, which can lead to unconformable, painful and restrictive symptoms.

What is vibration syndrome?

Vibration syndrome, also known as vibration white finger and as Raynaud's phenomenon, may be caused by constant exposure to vibration, such as power tools, and it results in painful and neurological symptoms to workers’ hands.

Because so little was known about vibration syndrome as an occupational risk, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted and published an extensive study on the condition. Researchers found that 83 percent of exposed workers in the foundries and 64 percent of exposed workers in shipyards had discernable Reynaud’s phenomenon symptoms.

Furthermore, a whopping 47 percent of workers in foundries showed advanced symptoms.

Recognizing the Symptoms

When workers use vibrating hand tools, it can cause a numbness and tingling aftereffect in the hands. The fleeting sensation is not considered Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Symptoms of vibration syndrome may include:

  • persistent numbness and tingling in the hands that returns regularly;
  • intermittent and frequent symptoms, particularly early in the morning or when the hands are cold or wet;
  • the fingers become suddenly white and cold all at once;
  • blanching;
  • pain; and
  • flushing.

Workers suffering from Raynaud’s may notice that symptoms usually worsen as time goes on. In serious cases, the skin may become atrophic, ulcerated or gangrenous.

The symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome are often very similar to those of costoclavicular syndrome, certain connective tissue diseases and some vascular disorders. This makes diagnosing difficult.  According to the CDC, many physicians have not been taught how to distinguish vibration syndrome from others conditions, making proper diagnosis all the more difficult.

Workers Most at Risk for Developing Vibration Syndrome

Workers at risk are those who frequently use powered hand tools, gasoline chainsaws and pneumatic drills. The sectors that are most at risk for vibration syndrome, according to the study, include:

  • construction;
  • farming;
  • metal working;
  • steel;
  • lumber and wood;
  • mining;
  • truck and automobile manufacturing; and
  • foundries.

The ratio of female to male patients is five to one, reports the CDC citing a previous study. The syndrome affects roughly 3 percent of the population, but for women ages 15 to 40, as many as 15 percent might have Reynaud’s syndrome, reports the New York Times.

Preventing Raynaud's Phenomenon

When the NIOSH released its report, it also provided advice for preventing vibration syndrome among workers. Recommendations include:

  • changing production lines to minimize the need for vibrating hand tools;
  • manufacturers need to engineer and modify hand tools to reduce vibration;
  • physicians need better education and practices for examining and diagnosing the symptoms;
  • educating workers and employers on recognizing the symptoms;
  • reporting workers' symptoms and obtaining medical care promptly;
  • adequately maintaining vibrating hand tools;
  • workers should have at least a 10-minute break after each hour of using vibrating tools; and
  • workers should grasp the tool as lightly as possible while still maintaining control and should substitute a non-vibrating hand tool when practicable.
Workers’ Comp Lawyer Serving New York City

If you experience vibration syndrome symptoms, it’s important to report your injury to your employer. Workers who suffer from work-related injuries and illnesses might be able to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.

For more information, contact our attorneys at Markhoff & Mittman. We serve New York City and the surrounding areas and will provide you with a free case evaluation. Contact our offices to learn more – 866-205-2415 or (866) 205-2415.

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