Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome: The Most Common Industrial Disease Among Rail Workers

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Deborah Krelle

Partner, Head of Industrial Disease

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The use of certain vibratory tools whilst working on the railways as a railway engineer can expose employees  to excessive vibration which can lead to permanent, debilitating conditions such as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) or Vibration White Finger.

But this shouldn’t be the case.

Your employer is responsible for your health, safety and wellbeing whilst you’re engaged in your employment duties at work. If they fail to take steps to protect you from developing a condition like HAVS, you could be entitled to make a claim.

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What is Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome?

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is a condition that’s normally caused by long periods of exposure to hand-held tools that cause vibration which can lead to permanent nerve damage and damage to , blood vessels, joints and muscles in the arms, hands and wrists. HAVS is also commonly known as Vibration White Finger.

HAVS is a condition that can make day-to-day life difficult and, in some cases, can even prevent  you from doing your job.

The railway industry has identified that HAVS is the most common occupational disease amongst rail workers. This is because rail workers often have to use high vibration tools such as grinders, impact drills, sanders and polishers in their daily jobs. It’s estimated that nearly 2 million people in the UK are at risk of HAVS.


There are certain types of occupational diseases which must be reported to the Health and Safety Executive if those diseases are likely to have been caused or made worse by the individuals work, including:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Severe cramp of the hand or forearm
  • Occupational dermatitis
  • Hand arm vibration syndrome
  • Occupational asthma
  • Tendonitis or tendosynovitis of the hand or the forearm
  • Any occupational cancer
  • Any disease attributed to an occupational exposure to a biological agent


Despite the current statistics on workplace injuries within the UK, it has been reported that the UK is one of the safest places in the world to work. However, that doesn’t mean that more can’t be done to prevent avoidable workplace injuries.

Preventing injuries at work and making sure those who are injured are compensated for their injury are both important in making workplaces much safer. It is hoped that lessons will be learned by employers and accidents will be prevented to stop people’s lives being needlessly turned upside down.


What Are The Effects of HAVS?

The most common symptoms of HAVS include:

  • Tingling in the fingers
  • Numbness or loss of feeling in the fingers
  • Loss of hand or grip strength
  • Blanched fingers which become red and painful on recovery

There is unfortunately no cure or effective treatment for HAVS, and the symptoms are usually irreversible. This is why prevention is key. Your employer has a duty of care to make sure they take the appropriate steps to prevent you from developing this serious condition.



What To Do If You’ve Already Developed HAVS

In the UK, our health and safety at work is protected by legislations such as the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. If your employer is found to be in breach of the law and was negligent in their duty of care to you, they can be held legally responsible for your injury or illness.

If you’ve worked in an industry such as construction, engineering or mining, with equipment such as pneumatic drills, concrete breakers or grinding tools, you’ll have been at risk of exposure to vibration. Vibration White Finger or HAVS is the most common occupational disease for rail workers.

Many people come to us years after they’ve left their job, but it will generally be difficult to get supportive medical evidence if symptoms appear more than 12 months after the last exposure to vibrating tools This is why it’s important you get in touch as soon as you can with our specialist Industrial Disease Solicitors to see if you could make a claim for compensation, even if your employer has gone out of business.

Measures that an employer could take to prevent the risk of HAVS may include:

  • Educating their staff on HAVS
  • Conducting thorough risk assessments
  • Rotating tasks that expose workers to excessive vibration
  • Monitoring employees who use vibrating equipment
  • Ensuring staff take adequate breaks


However, if you have been affected by HAVS, we can assist you in making a claim for compensation by trying to establish  that this has been caused by excessive vibration as a result of working with vibratory tools for long periods of time. If so, we should then  be able to establish that your employer failed to take steps to protect you from developing HAVS.

Both injuries and illnesses sustained through accidents at work and industrial diseases can have huge long-term impacts for workers and their families in the UK. That is why health and safety laws govern all workplaces, regardless of their nature or size. In addition to the steps that should be taken to protect you from HAVS, your employer should protect you from other risks too. They should do this by:

  • Prepare a health and safety policy
  • Share the health and safety policy with employees
  • Have a competent safety officer in place
  • Conduct adequate health and safety training
  • Provide employees with instructions for working with potentially dangerous machinery in addition to undertaking tasks such as working at height and manual handling tasks
  • Provide the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (also referred to as PPE to protect you from potential hazards. Examples of this would include gloves and masks for working with chemicals and steel cap shoes to protect your feet from falling objects
  • Prevent employees from unsafe exposure to noise and vibration which can cause conditions such as, but not limited to, tinnitus and Vibration White Finger
  • Identify and signpost hazards. Examples of this could include slippery floors or uneven floor surfaces, to name just a couple
  • Conduct risk assessments covering all potential dangers and hazards in the workplace in addition to identifying ways in which the risks have been reduced or could be reduced in the future
  • Monitor equipment to identify anything that is faulty or defective in addition to taking steps to either fix or replace this to make sure that the equipment is safe for employees to use again


How Can We Help?

If you suffer from HAVS due to your exposure to vibratory tools at work which your employer should have taken steps to prevent, our lawyers are here to help you claim compensation. By making a claim with us, you’ll be assigned a specialist lawyer who can help to establish whether  your employer failed in their duty of care towards you.

Being diagnosed with HAVS or any other occupational disease or illness can be shocking and can have a huge impact on you and your loved ones lives. Call us today for a Free Claims Assessment from our expert Industrial Disease Solicitors to find out where you stand. We could deal with your claim on a No Win, No Fee basis – just ask us about this.

We will listen to the details of your exposure and the impact that ther condition has had on your life. We will then be able to assess the prospects of success in you being able to obtain compensation for the pain and suffering that you have ensured in addition to any subsequent consequential  losses.

If we’re able to take on your case, and if you feel comfortable to go forward, you’ll be assigned one of our expert Industrial Disease Solicitors who will carry out a detailed investigation. You’ll be kept up to date at every stage of your claim and we can tailor our service to your specific needs and wishes. We aim to reduce the stress involved in what can feel like an overwhelming process. We’ll do everything we can to settle your claim out of Court where possible, pursuing options like mediation to reach the best possible conclusion for you and your family.


Our team can be contacted on 0808 239 9681 or alternatively you can request a call back here.

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Deborah Krelle

Partner, Head of Industrial Disease

Areas of Expertise:
Industrial Disease

As Head of Industrial Disease, Deborah’s role is to supervise, train and motivate her team to help clients with the Industrial Disease Claims process. She is also responsible for bringing new work into the department and building sound relationships with all clients.

Deborah is a Solicitor with considerable experience in dealing with work related illnesses and diseases, including Asbestos, Vibration White Finger, Occupational AsthmaHearing Loss and Dermatitis.


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