‘A Disease of the Hand and Fingers caused by excessive exposure to Hand Held Vibratory Tools.’

This condition is more commonly referred to as ‘vibration white finger’ (VWF).

The condition has recently received considerable media attention as a result of the Government Scheme set up to deal with the many thousands of claims made by coal miners who suffer from this condition. The condition itself has been known about since 1911 and is prevalent in many industries, the common feature being exposure to excessive use of hand held vibratory tools.

Symptoms

There can be three components to VWF:

Attacks of blanching (whiteness) in the fingers

Numbness and tingling in the fingers resulting in a loss of dexterity and sensation, and finally

Muscle / bone disorders, causing such problems as a reduction in grip strength.

All three components are not always present. It can be one or more of the components listed. The more intense and lengthy the exposure to vibration, the worse the symptoms are likely to be.

You may also suffer from a condition called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This is a condition which is often associated with exposure to vibration and can be compensated in the same way as VWF. If you have been exposed to vibration and diagnosed with CTS, you may be able to pursue a claim.

Treatment

The best treatment is to stop using hand held vibratory tools altogether. Continuous use of hand held vibratory tools will most probably result in the condition and symptoms worsening.

Workers who sufffer from the condition should avoid cold conditions and, if possible, wear gloves to keep their hands warm.

Regular medical checks by employers would assist in the early identification of the condition which may enable symptoms to improve, providing exposure to the use of hand held vibratory tools is stopped or reduced at an early stage. Job rotation and warnings of the risks of developing this condition are further measures which can be taken by employers to reduce the risk of workers developing this condition.

Occupations where the condition is prevalent

  • Road Workers
  • Construction Workers
  • Foundry Workers
  • Building Workers
  • Railway / Motor Vehicle Repair Workers
  • Fitters
  • Steel Fabricators
  • Forestry Workers
  • Arbourists

 

Making a Claim

Employers can only be held legally responsible if it can be shown that they ought to have known of the damaging effects of excessive exposure to vibration. It is unlikely that employers will be deemed to have known about the damaging effects of excessive exposure to vibration prior to 1976. If exposure to vibration was after 1976, then it may be possible to pursue a claim if:

  • A Doctor diagnoses Hand / Arm Vibration Syndrome or VWF or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. A diagnosis based on the account of symptoms, history of exposure to vibration and the exclusion of any other medical reason for the condition to have developed.
  • It can be shown that the employer knew or ought to have known that the excessive exposure to vibration throught he use of hand held vibratory tools at work may result in workers developing VWF.
  • There has been exposure to unsafe levels of vibration. Expert evidence may be required to assess whether or not a worker has been exposed to safe or unsafe levels of vibration. A reasonable employer should have in place a programme of preventative measures such as job rotation, regular medical checks and provide warnings of the risk of developing the condition.

 

Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit / Reduced Earnings Allowance

Vibration White Finger is a prescribed disease which may entitle a person suffering from the cidiont to make a claim to the Benefits Agency for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and / or Reduced Earnings Allowance. It is not necessary to show that an employer is at fault for a worker developing the condition. If entitled to either of the Benefits, the Benefit can be back dated for a three month period.

Fingers often go white and small objects are hard to handle

The condition is not restricted to the mining industry

A reasonable employer should limit the exposure to vibration often, with a system of job rotation

Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit / Reduced Earnings Allowance can be claimed