Fredrik Gustafsson is one of thousands in the construction industry working with vibrating tools who go on to suffer the debilitating condition, Hand-arm vibrating syndrome.
Fredrik Gustafsson is one of thousands in the construction industry working with vibrating tools who go on to suffer the debilitating condition, Hand-arm vibrating syndrome. Credit: Dave Russell/Sveriges Radio

Union sounds alarm on hand-arm vibration syndrome

5:09 min

"A tingling feeling like soda, pain, loss of touch. I don't feel stuff the same way I used to." Carpenter Fredrik Gustafsson describing the debilitating affects of living with hand-arm vibration syndrome, a condition caused by prolonged use of hand-held power tools.

"I don't sleep as good as I used to. I have pain several times a day. I have lost dexterity in my fingers. Driving my car is a problem because of the vibration from the steering wheel," the 51-year-old tells Radio Sweden.

Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is caused by damage to the nerves, blood vessels and joints of the hands and arms from prolonged use of vibration equipment. It's most seen in industrial settings when people repeatedly use tools such as jackhammers and high-powered drills. If left untreated, the damage can be permanent and lead to blanching of the fingers.

Today it is the most common form of work-related illnesses in Sweden, affecting many in the construction industry.

Gustafsson was in his 40's working with vibrating tools when the problem started. It took years for him to get a proper diagnosis. He's now on sick leave for stress and depression. The cold exacerbates the condition and he says the winter months are the worst.

"Your fingers turn cold like popsicles pretty fast and it takes a long time to recover from that feeling," he says.

According to AFA Insurance, an organisation owned by Sweden's labour market parties, 25 percent of those signed off sick every year due to a work related illness have suffered from hand-arm vibration syndrome.

In the construction industry, the figures are even higher. This week, the builders union, Byggnad, has been carrying out 3,500 additional checks on construction sites to alert both employers and workers about the dangers of working with vibrating tools.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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