Vibration white finger is a disorder of the blood supply to the fingers and hand which can be caused by regular use of vibrating hand-held tools. Estimates of its prevalence, including longstanding as well as new cases, from a specific survey commissioned by HSE and carried out by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in 1997/98 [4.07MB]. This survey was based on questionnaires administered to representative samples of the population, but there were differences in methodology. When comparing the results, it should be borne in mind that the symptoms of finger blanching that are characteristic of VWF can also occur in the general population independently of vibration exposure.
Vibration White Finger (VWF) is the most commonly prescribed disease under the Industrial Injuries Disability Benefit (IIDB) scheme for the last ten years, this is shown in Table IIDB02. However the number of new cases of VWF has fallen significantly over that period as shown by Figure 1 below.
Sufferers from VWF may have a permanent loss of sensation in their fingers, causing difficulty in picking up and manipulating small objects. However, while VWF and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (see below) qualify for compensation under the IIDB, the loss of sensation does not.
Table IIDB10 shows the average rate of new assessments of Vibration White Finger in different industries. The industry group with by far the highest average rate of new assessments in the years 2004 to 2006 was Extraction, Energy and Water Supply with 21.9 new assessments per 100 000 employees. Other industry groups with high rates of new assessed cases are Manufacturing (7.6 cases per 100 000 employees), Construction (7.3), these groups include industries where there is substantial use of vibrating tools.
Other disorders may also be caused by vibration. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), is thought to arise in part from entrapment or compression of nerves in the wrist which could stem from vibration. CTS caused by hand-held vibrating tools was made a prescribed disease from April 1993. The number of new cases of CTS recognised by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rose steadily from 1993 until 2002/03 when the number peaked at 1030. The last 3 years have seen a steady fall in the number of new cases. The 435 cases prescribed this year is the lowest since 1999/00.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may have other occupational causes, such as repetitive twisting or gripping movements of the hand, but such cases do not qualify for compensation by DWP.