Vibration White Finger (VWF), otherwise known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) or white finger, is an occupational injury caused by extensive use of hand-held vibrating machinery. The condition can be prevented by following the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, but currently, there is no cure.
Excessive exposure to the vibrations of machinery can affect the nerves, muscles, joints, connective tissue and blood vessels of the hand and forearm. As the condition progresses, the affected fingers may become white and lose feeling.
In severe cases, the victim may suffer frequent attacks, often triggered by cold weather, causing considerable pain, reduced grip strength and loss of manual dexterity. Extreme vibration white finger could result in amputation of the affected fingers.
In the UK, it is estimated there are around 300,000 people who suffer from hand-arm vibration syndrome, and another 2 million are at risk for developing the disease. The symptoms can take time to appear, but once evident, the condition can severely impact the life quality of the victim.
Your employer has a duty to take all reasonable measures to protect you from developing an injury. If they breached their duty of care and you developed vibration white finger, you might be eligible to receive compensation.
Can I make a vibration white finger claim?
A free consultation with a legal adviser can let you know if you might qualify for vibration white finger compensation. Usually, a claim is possible if:
- You became aware of your injury in the last three years
- Your employer breached their duty of care towards you by neglecting the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005
- Their negligence caused you to develop symptoms of VWF
Employers should always provide adequate tools, protective gear, a safe working environment and proper training to employees. If you answer no to any of the following questions, you likely have a valid claim for compensation:
- Did my employer provide sufficient safety training?
- Were the tools I received suitable, effective and properly maintained?
- Was I given appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as anti-vibration gloves?
- Was I provided with health surveillance and vibration exposure measures?
Although you generally have three years from the date of your diagnosis to start a vibration white finger claim, it is advisable to contact a solicitor as soon as possible. It could take a significant amount of time to gather relevant evidence to support your claim, such as:
- The medical reports outlining your condition and how it might be related to your job
- Workplace documents like training records and work schedules
- Witness statements for other co-workers about what your job involved
- Photos or videos of the tools in use and workplace environment
- An independent medical visit with a government-approved physician
According to the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969, most employers must take out insurance to cover any personal injuries suffered by employees. If you make a claim, your employer’s insurance company will have to pay you compensation. You do not need to worry about putting them in a difficult position.
Furthermore, you are protected by UK employment law against getting fired or punished for making a workplace claim. If your employer tries to sack you or makes your life at work so hard that you end up quitting, you might have cause for unfair dismissal.
For a free consultation with a legal adviser, call 0800 678 1410. They can let you know if you may be eligible to make a vibration white finger claim and answer any questions you may have.
What is vibration white finger?
Vibration white finger belongs to a vast group of industrial injuries triggered by the continuous use of vibrating hand-held machinery such as pneumatic drills, chainsaws, hammer drills or grinders. In the UK, over 2 million people are at risk for developing VWF at the workplace.
It is unclear how vibration causes the symptoms associated with VWF, but it is probably due to the slight and continuous injury to nerves and blood vessels in the fingers. Over time, these will lose integrity and some of their functions, causing the associated symptoms.
According to the Medical Research Council (MRC), between 1998 and 1999, there were 288,000 individuals who suffered from white finger in Great Britain, of which 255,000 were males and 33,000 females. It is estimated that 1 in 10 people who regularly use vibrating equipment may develop vibration white finger at some point.
The period of time between exposure to vibration and the development of symptoms can vary from months to years. The risk increases with the intensity and duration of exposure to vibration. Employers should take all reasonable measures to limit the use of vibrating tools and provide adequate protection to employees.
If you believe you developed any symptoms due to a breach of health and safety measures at the workplace, you might be eligible to make a vibration white finger claim.
What are the symptoms of vibration white finger?
White finger is a long-term vascular condition commonly affecting the fingers and thumbs. During episodes of VWF, the fingers might become white and drained of blood, lasting from a few minutes to several hours.
Prolonged exposure to vibrating tools can also affect the muscles, joints, bones and nervous system, also known as hand-arm vibration syndrome. The condition could also develop as a secondary form of Raynaud’s phenomenon, characterised by decreased blood flow to the fingers.
Workers who use hand-held power tools for more than a few hours a day can develop symptoms of VWF within months or years. The first symptoms may be loss of feeling or tingling that comes and goes and can remain mild or worsen if you continue to use vibrating machinery.
Some individuals will experience few of the symptoms associated with vibration white finger, while others could experience most of them to some extent:
Symptoms of nerve damage include pain, numbness, pins and needles, loss of feeling and reduced dexterity. These may come and go initially but could become permanent if exposure to vibration continues.
The vascular manifestations cause the fingers or fingertips to turn white due to a lack of blood supply in cold environments. The affected fingers initially become white and lose feeling, followed by a red flush and uncomfortable throbbing, which signals the return of blood flow.
In more severe cases, the fingers can turn blue after all the oxygen supply has been used.
Musculoskeletal complications may cause aches and pains, reduced grip strength and loss of manual dexterity. The affected individuals might develop osteoporosis of the wrist and elbow and the development of bone cysts.
If you suspect you have any of the vibration white finger symptoms, you should consult an occupational health physician. They will conduct tests to determine the extent and severity of your condition.
The treatment involves managing symptoms with pain killers and medication to improve circulation. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for VWF.
What causes vibration white finger?
Hand-arm vibration syndrome is commonly associated with workers using vibrating tools and equipment for more than a few hours a day. The vibration emitted by machinery promotes the tightening and damage of blood vessels and may damage the nerves, bones and joints in the hand and forearm.
The condition can develop in one or both hands as a consequence of using tools such as:
- Hand drills
- Concrete breakers
- Pneumatic drills
- Chainsaws and trimmers
- Powered mowers
- High-pressure water hoses
- Sanders and grinders
- Needle guns
- Polishers and jigsaws
Overexposure to such tools can lead to permanent symptoms that might affect work and simple daily activities like buttoning a shirt or picking up small objects. Intensive vibration of tools, machinery or workpieces can be transmitted to the hand and arms and up to the shoulders, damaging nerves, blood vessels and other tissues.
The HSE states that vibration white finger was the most common disease associated with the Industrial Injuries Disability Benefit scheme between 2006 and 2015. According to recent studies, injuries can occur at any frequency between 5 and 2000 Hz, but the highest risk for fingers is between 25 and 500 Hz.
The condition cannot be cured, but it can be improved by:
- Keeping hands warm to improve circulation
- Cutting down or quitting smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding tight clothing that reduces blood flow
- Not sitting for long periods
- Avoid touching cold objects
If not handled correctly, just about any type of vibrating tool can cause repetitive strain injuries like vibration white finger. Your employer must closely control how long you operate vibrating machinery and provide proper training and protective equipment to reduce the risk of developing VWF.
What protection should my employer provide?
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, part of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, stipulates the regulations employers must follow to protect you from developing VWF.
Regular and frequent exposure to hand-arm vibrating machinery can cause permanent health effects. Employers should assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from using hand-held tools.
The assessment should:
- Consider if there is a vibration-associated risk
- Estimate the employees’ exposure to vibrations
- Identify the control measures needed
- Provide health surveillance to employees at risk
- Encourage employees to report early symptoms
The risk controls employers should take include:
- Look for alternative work methods to eliminate or reduce exposure
- Automate the work when possible
- Make sure to provide suitable and efficient working equipment
- Select the lowest vibrating tool appropriate for the work
- Replace old equipment and tools
- Make sure the right tools are used for the job
- Train staff on issues related to the effect of vibrations
- Improve the design of workstations to reduce the load on arms caused by poor posture
- Introduce employee rotas to limit exposure times
- Keep a suitable working temperature
- Provide regular breaks of at least ten minutes every hour
- Provide appropriate training on using vibration tools
In 2019, there were 205 new cases of hand-arm vibration syndrome, a welcomed reduction from 1,210 in 2010. Unfortunately, there is no cure for vibration white finger disease. It can be prevented by following good work practices and the use of personal protective equipment such as anti-vibration gloves.
The anti-vibration gloves are made of thick and soft material which insulates the hands from vibrations. The protection they offer depends nonetheless on the frequency rate of vibration. This must match the properties of the gloves; otherwise, they might actually amplify the vibrations from equipment.
The health and safety management guidelines require vibration exposure to be controlled in terms of duration, acceleration and amplitude. A tool that vibrates slightly for a long time can be as damaging as a heavily vibrating tool during a short period.
If your employer failed to uphold their duty of care and you developed VWF symptoms, you might be able to make a vibration white finger claim against them.
For a free consultation with a legal adviser, call 0800 678 1410. They can let you know if you may be eligible to claim compensation and answer any questions you may have.
How much compensation can I claim for vibration white finger?
The amount of compensation you might be entitled to receive in a vibration white finger claim will be calculated by your solicitor depending on:
- The extent of your injury
- The pain and suffering you endured and long-time consequences
- Any financial losses and costs you incurred
At the beginning of your claim, your solicitor will consider all the ways in which your injury affected your life. In any personal injury claim, the compensation award could cover:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional and psychological distress
- Costs of medical treatments, including private care
- Loss of amenity
- Loss of a unique career
- Reduced quality of life
- Lost earnings, including future losses
- Physiotherapy and medication costs
- Costs of care, even if provided by a family member
- Travel costs
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Any other financial losses you incurred
Compensation for general damages like pain, suffering and loss of amenity takes into account the extent of your injury and long-term impacts on your work and daily life. The Judicial College offers guidelines that help solicitors calculate suitable vibration white finger compensation depending on your unique situation:
- £2,390 to £6,890 for minor VWF with occasional symptoms in a few fingers
- £6,890 to £13,360 for moderate cases where attacks occur in cold weather but do not affect employment
- £13,360 to £25,220 for severe VWF conditions with year-round symptoms impacting work and daily life
- £25,220 to £30,630 for very severe cases with persistent symptoms that significantly impact an individual’s life
To find out what compensation prospects you may have based on your unique situation, you can call 0800 678 1410 or enter your details into our online claim form to receive a free consultation with a legal adviser.
What job roles are most at risk of causing vibration white finger?
Between 2004 and 2006, the industry group with the highest rate of vibration white finger cases was by far the extraction, energy and water supply industry, with 21.9 sufferers per 100,000 employees. Other occupations with elevated rates of VWF are manufacturing, with 7.6 cases per 100,000 employees and construction, with 7.3 cases per 100,000 employees.
Any job involving the use of vibrating tools and machinery poses health risks for employees. Working with such equipment is commonplace in industries like:
- Heavy engineering and heavy factory manufacturing
- Shipbuilding and repair
- Mining and quarry excavation
- Building and maintenance of roads and railways
- Automotive construction, service and repair
- Energy and communication industries
- Farming and estate management
- Oil and petrochemical extraction
- Gardening with power tools
- Public utility industry
The list is not exhaustive, and many other types of work might have caused your condition. If you believe your employer breached their duty of care towards you, causing you injury, you might be entitled to claim for vibration white finger.
The condition can profoundly affect your ability to work and live a normal life, and you deserve compensation for your pain and suffering. To find out if you have a valid claim, speak to a trained legal adviser by calling 0800 678 1410 for a free consultation.
How long do I have to make a vibration white finger claim?
If you have developed an industrial injury due to your employer’s negligence, you might be entitled to claim compensation. You should seek medical advice as soon as you develop any of the associated symptoms.
You usually have three years to make a claim from when your condition was diagnosed. This is known as the date of knowledge of your injury. Based on the timeline and severity of your symptoms, a judge may determine the date by which you should have taken legal action.
If you failed to act on what is considered a reasonable suspicion of an injury caused by your employer’s negligence, the judge might decide that you missed the three-year limitation date to make a claim. Afterwards, your case will become statute-barred, and you will no longer be entitled to compensation.
Under the Mental Capacity Act, an individual who lacks the mental capacity to conduct legal proceedings is exempted from the three-year limitation date.
A litigation friend could claim compensation at any time on behalf of someone suffering from high levels of stress , severe sleep deprivation, a mental disorder such as major depression or an intellectual disability. The three-year countdown only begins if the victim regains mental capacity.
It is also possible to make a vibration white finger claim if your condition developed while working outside the UK, but the limitation date can be significantly shorter in some countries, so you should seek immediate legal advice.
In any case, you should contact a solicitor as soon as possible if you believe you might have a valid claim for compensation. Gathering all the necessary evidence and preparing all legal documents can be a lengthy process, and you should not risk missing your chance to get the compensation you deserve.
Can I make a no win no fee claim?
Symptoms of VWF do not appear immediately after exposure to vibrations and can sometimes take many years to develop. If you did not receive proper training and instruction at the workplace, this might make it even more difficult for you to recognise the mild initial symptoms.
When you find out about your injury, the damage you suffered might already be severe and permanent. This can be very distressing for you and your loved ones and might significantly impact your life.
You might want to claim vibration white finger compensation for your pain, suffering and any other damages you incurred due to your condition.
Nonetheless, you might worry that you don’t have enough proof to sustain your claim and might not want to invest a lot of time and money into taking legal action without knowing you will win the case.
A brief conversation with a legal adviser can put your mind at ease. They will ask you a few questions about your condition and work practices and will have the expertise to decide if you have a valid vibration white finger claim.
If your case seems strong and with a fair chance of success, they will offer you a no win no fee agreement. This is the preferred way to finance a personal injury claim because it provides a series of advantages, which includes:
- You don’t have to pay any upfront or hidden charges.
- Your solicitor will arrange a free consultation with an independent medical professional to assess the full extent of your condition and any permanent effects. Their medical report will serve as essential evidence in your claim.
- You receive legal assistance and advice at every step of the claiming process.
- Your solicitor will take out an insurance policy on your behalf that offers complete financial coverage if you lose the case, so you won’t have to pay a single penny to anyone.
In a no win no fee claim, you will only have to pay anything if your solicitor manages to secure the compensation award on your behalf. In this case, they will receive a success fee that you will agree upon before starting the claim and which cannot exceed 25% of your compensation.