Vibration exposure, smoking, and vascular dysfunction
Workers who frequently use pneumatic and oscillating tools, such as pneumatic drills, chainsaws, metal grinders, and chipping hammers, often suffer from vibration white finger, otherwise known as occupational Raynaud's phenomenon. This means that their blood vessels become overly sensitised to cold and constrict while their blood pressure falls. Symptoms are painful and disabling. A report in Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows that smoking seems to perpetuate circulatory problems and that it delays recovery when the tools are no longer being used.
The research team assessed the vascular responses of 600 shipyard metal workers in specially simulated cold conditions. All the workers had, or continued to use, pneumatic tools. Two years later, 199 of those who had been most severely affected and who were no longer using pneumatic tools, were reassessed. Smokers were twice as likely to have severe symptoms of vasoconstriction as non-smokers. The smokers were also younger and had worked for a shorter time than the non-smokers, suggesting that their symptoms may have forced them to give up work, say the authors. Circulatory test results had improved in 53 workers who had given up smoking between the tests, but their symptoms had not.
The authors conclude that there is no obvious explanation for the interaction between tobacco and vibration, but that the combination seems to exaggerate vascular responsiveness to cold.
Dr Martin Cherniack, Ergonomics Technology Centre, University of Connecticut, Farmington, USA. email@example.com