If you’re suffering from Vibration White Finger due to your employer’s negligence, you may be able to bring a claim for personal injury at work.
What is Vibration White Finger?
Vibration white finger (VWF), sometimes known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), is a permanent and painful condition affecting the nerves, joints and muscles of the upper limbs.
The most visible symptom is blanching and whiteness in the fingers which is caused by a restriction in blood flow to the hands. Other symptoms of vibration white finger include tingling and numbness, as well as muscle weakness, in the fingers and hands.
Although you may not experience the symptoms all the time, vibration white finger can have a significant and detrimental impact on your life. The reduction in overall limb strength, along with the pain and discomfort, can make it difficult to work and pursue hobbies.
Because of this, if you can show that your condition is as a result of your employer’s negligence and failure to meet its health and safety duties, you may be able to claim for compensation.
What causes vibration white finger?
Vibration white finger is caused by exposure to vibration and is considered to be an industrial disease. This is because, for most people, exposure to vibration occurs at work through the use of handheld power tools.
You could be at risk of vibration white finger if you use power tools for more than a few hours a day over extended periods. These could include tools such as:
- Pneumatic drills
- Power Drills
- Angle grinders
- Powered mowers
Nearly every type of vibrating equipment, regardless of size, can induce repetitive strain injuries such as VWF if not handled properly. Tools with a hammer action are a particularly high risk, with even a very short daily exposure of 15 minutes, could be enough to cause damage.
However, long-term and repetitive use of any handheld or hand-guided power tool may cause the disease to progress.
For these reasons, it is a condition that is often found to develop in those who work in heavy industry where the use of vibratory machinery or tools is widespread. Mining and engineering are two such heavy industries, but occupations such as highway maintenance, gardening and construction can also lead to people developing this condition.
Vibration white finger symptoms
The symptoms of vibration white finger are varied and can affect individuals very differently depending on the extent of your exposure to vibration. Common signs of vibration white finger include:
- Whiteness spreading from your fingertips downwards – this is known as blanching.
- Whiteness or a vibrant red colouring of the fingers.
- Tingling, numbness and pain in the hands and fingers – this can cause sleep disturbance.
- Throbbing and swelling and a loss of dexterity in the fingers and hands, making it difficult to grip.
These features are often more prominent in colder weather. They are also permanent.
The symptoms of pain and discomfort are unlikely to be present constantly with flare-ups often lasting between 2 and 30 minutes.
If you continue to use tools, however, you are at risk of suffering from a worsening of the condition leading to some of the symptoms becoming persistent – specifically the numbness – making picking up small objects incredibly difficult.
This could affect both your working life and your home life, where things such as fastening buttons could prove problematic.
The frequency of the blanching and pain and discomfort could also increase with continued exposure.
Can you claim for vibration white finger?
Sadly, not all employers comply with their legal responsibility to train and safeguard their workforce from conditions such as vibration white finger. If you regularly use, or used, hand-held power tools at work and are experiencing any of the symptoms of vibration white finger, however infrequent, then you may have a claim. The strength of your claim against your employer will depend on many factors, including how robust their risk measures are.
Who do you claim against for vibration white finger?
Because vibration white finger is caused by exposure over time, it is not always straightforward to determine who you should bring your claim against.
For example, if you have changed jobs but used similar tools in each role, you may have to make a claim against more than one company. Or if your former employer is no longer be trading, your claim may have to be brought against their insurance company.
How to make a vibration white finger claim
Given the potential complexities involved in making a claim, as soon as you become aware that you may have developed vibration white finger, you should consult a solicitor. They can help you identify who to make a claim against, can investigate exposure levels, and risk controls and assess what parts of your life have been affected by it.
Depending on the severity of your condition and whether it has had an impact on your ability to work and pursue leisure activities, a claim for vibration white finger can have a considerable variation in value. Expert reports may be needed to assist in assessing your claim’s worth.
How do I pay for claim for vibration white finger?
Your legal adviser should provide you with the options to fund your claim, which could include a conditional fee agreement – also known as ‘no-win, no-fee’ arrangements.
How much is vibration white finger compensation?
The amount of compensation you could win for vibration white finger will depend on factors such as:
- Earning losses – both past and future
- Costs incurred relating to your medical needs
- Any needs in relation to care and assistance due to your condition
- Pain and suffering as a result of your condition
How long do you have to make a claim for vibration white finger?
In most cases, you will need to bring your VWF claim within 3 years of discovering that your condition is work-related.
Where the employee is deceased, their family’s 3 years to claim, beginning either on the date their relative passed away or the date they got the post-mortem results.
Employer’s duty to reduce exposure to vibration
Vibration white finger is an entirely preventable condition.
While there are steps that you can take to minimise your risks, it is your employer’s duty to put in place measures that will protect you from over-exposure to vibration at work.
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 places an obligation on employers to consider and identify steps that will eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to vibration so that they can do just that. Specifically, they introduced vibration exposure levels that are deemed ‘safe’ for you.
The first level – the exposure action level (EAL) – indicates the level at which an employer should introduce measures to reduce your levels of vibration exposure and the second – the exposure limit value (ELV) – is the vibration level beyond which no-one should be exposed.
However, it is not enough for an employer to merely keep your level of exposure between these two levels. They must reduce your exposure to vibration to as low as is reasonably practicable.
There are several steps an employer should take to protect you from damaging exposure to vibration at work.
Firstly, they should carry out a risk assessment considering the use of all power tools. Monitoring should be used to establish who uses what tools, and for how long. If the use of power tools by you, or your colleagues, exceeds the EAL or ELV then measures require to be put in place to reduce the risks.
Risk controls can include:
- Finding other ways to carry out the work – thus eliminating the use of handheld power tools completely.
- Selection of the most appropriate tool for the job to ensure that it completes the task in the least time, minimising your exposure to vibration.
- When purchasing new equipment ensuring that they have the lowest vibration levels possible, whilst still being suitable and efficient.
- Considering where and how the tools are being used, and adjusting the workspace to minimise the pressure on hands, wrists and arms.
- Limiting the time that you are exposed by planning work schedules with rotas for the use of these tools, and interspersing their use with time off the tools.
- Considering the protective clothing supplied to you, to ensure warmth when working outside, which helps encourage good circulation.
Information and training
Having introduced risk reduction measures your employer should also provide you with information about the condition, your risk level, risk factors and how to recognise and report symptoms. You should also be made aware of ways in which you can minimise risks, including being trained on selecting the most effective tools for the job, and how to use them to encourage you to reduce your grip on them.
Finally, your employer should have in place a system which then monitors both the implementation of the control measures and – if they know you are going to be exposed above the EAL – your health. This will help identify the condition at an early stage and help prevent progression.
Vibration white finger FAQs
What does vibration white finger mean?
Vibration white finger is a permanent, painful condition, with symptoms including whiteness of the fingers, tingling and numbness, as well as muscle weakness, in the fingers and hands.
Can I claim for white finger vibration?
If you're suffering from Vibration White Finger due to your employer's negligence, you may be able to bring a claim for personal injury at work.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.