May 9, 2006
Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), vibration white-finger, and carpal tunnel syndrome are all side effects of vibration overexposure, which can occur through using grinders often. Find out how to prevent these effects and reduce your overexposure to vibrations from using grinders and other power tools.
For years vibration overexposure has shortened many careers, causing irreversible damage to workers' nerves, muscles, bones, joints, and blood flow. By understanding the risks associated with overexposure to vibration, you can take safety measures that will prolong your career and result in less fatigue on the job.
Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is a chronic disorder that has plagued the welding and fabrication industry for decades. By ignoring its symptoms, you may end up with a painful and eventually debilitating condition.
HAVS may result from regular occupational overexposure to all types of power tools, including vibrating pneumatic, electric, hydraulic, and gasoline-powered hand tools (such as grinders, jackhammers, chipping hammers, hammers, power drills, and concrete breakers).
This disorder is fairly common not only among metal workers and fabricators, but also electricians, builders, plumbers, and carpenters. The effects of vibration exposure can vary in terms of severity and the length of time it takes for symptoms to appear. Factors such as the type of tool, weight, operating speed, tool ergonomics, user body characteristics, environmental conditions, and the use of vibration-dampening accessories affect the overall severity.
Initial symptoms include a tingling or numbing sensation in the fingers and hands. Symptoms can develop anytime from a few months to several years, depending on the many factors involved. As this exposure continues, especially in cold conditions, the pain begins to intensify. If untreated, these symptoms can lead to vascular and sensorineural damage, which can progress to vibration white finger and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Vibration white fingeris a condition of the fingers, hands, and arms that starts with a tingling sensation in the fingers with numbness. Fingers become white and swollen when cold and red and painful when warmed up again. It results from a lack of blood flow, which can lead to nerve, muscle, bone, and joint damage. The lack of blood to the fingers can lead to a loss of the sense of touch or use of the hands. In severe cases, it can turn to gangrene, which leads to irreversible damage and eventually amputation. Another debilitating side effect of overexposure is carpal tunnel syndrome. This occurs when too much pressure is placed on a nerve in the wrist. The symptoms include aching and numbness or tingling in the thumb, some of the fingers, and sometimes part of the hand.
Government and private health and safety groups, industry, and tool manufacturers have conducted research to understand better the long-term effects of vibration exposure, but currently no official standards or guidelines are in place. However, manufacturers and suppliers have designed products intended to help prevent and control the vibration exposure that can result in HAVS.
For example, some large- and small-angle grinders incorporate vibration-dampening technology. This can include a vibration-dampening side-assist handle. Some large-angle grinders have similar vibration-dampening technology built into the body near the rear handles. These types of advancements are designed to help reduce overexposure and add comfort (see Figure 1).
The grinder on the left does not incorporate vibration-dampening technology.
The grinder on the right has a vibration-dampening side-assist handle.
This type of technology is geared toward reducing HAVS discomfort and injuries
Safety gear, such as vibration-dampening gloves, also can offer added comfort and help alleviate symptoms. Contractors, safety groups, and some manufacturers have developed training programs and published suggested guidelines for vibration limits and safe usage times to help reduce some of the harmful side effects of vibration overexposure.
Because a grinder is a commonly used tool—and one of the tools closely associated with HAVS—you should keep several guidelines in mind during operation. The following tips can help reduce the risk of HAVS and other vibration-related disorders:
No one has determined a specific quantitative exposure limit that will eliminate the risk of developing HAVS in all end users exposed to hand-transmitted vibration from vibrating tools. Stay alert on the job, and understand that most symptoms don't appear in the early stages. No single factor prevents HAVS or a vibration-related disorder, so you need to be aware of the potential risk and take multiple precautions throughout your career.
Even though you're logging long hours on the job, you need to maintain your focus on your long-term health. The threat of HAVS is real, but you can reduce the risks, whether you're using a tool associated with HAVS at work or off the job. Staying educated and raising your health and safety awareness are the keys to a long and productive career.
|Welders reflect on vibration-dampering equipment use|
|By Stephanie Vaughan, Associate Editor|
Bob Rehl and John Ayers may have two different weld preparation needs, but they share the same feeling: vibration-dampening technology makes a difference.
Mitch Burdick is the product manager for grinding and metalworking tools, Bosch Power Tools and Accessories, 1800 W. Central Road, Mount Prospect, IL 60056, 877-267-2499, www.boschtools.com.