For the past three years, Chris Booth has been physically, emotionally and financially put through the wringer. And although he's accepted his own grim fate, he's determined to use his experience to put the spotlight on a preventable condition largely ignored by government work safety and support measures roped off by red tape.
The 44-year-old Waipawa man suffers from hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), a progressive condition caused by the overuse of vibrating hand-held machinery and tools.
Mr Booth had been a small-engine mechanic for 27 years and three years ago began experiencing pain, numbness and cramp in his wrists.
The pain forced him to quit his job and sign up for the sickness benefit.
HAVS has since robbed him of almost all feeling in his hands, which partner Christine Hawthorne says "feel like ice straight out of the freezer". His hands are extremely painful, mottled and swell when hot, or at temperatures below 15C.
He is unable to do the simplest tasks like tie his laces, cook, drive or play cricket with his 5-year-old son. He cannot hold his partner's hand. "Once you've got HAVS you're buggered," he says as he points to where the numbness has spread up his forearm.
After consultation with his GP, Mr Booth processed a claim with ACC for carpal tunnel syndrome in August 2007. Independent tests failed to backup the diagnosis and his claim was rejected.
For the next 14 months Mr Booth was shunted between specialists; hand surgeons, occupational physicians, neurologists and rheumatologists. Most recognised his was a vibration-induced injury, but could not agree on a diagnosis.
In January last year he was diagnosed with HAVS and started the ACC process again. Conflicting medical opinions saw Mr Booth's claim rejected a second time. He appealed, and ACC's decision was quashed. More tests ensued and in June this year his claim for HAVS was finally accepted.
The problem is few people know what HAVS is.
Dr Neville Berry, an occupational physician, says it's not a particularly common condition and it would be easy for GPs to diagnose a more common problem with the same symptoms. He suspects more people have it than have been diagnosed.
ACC has received 39 claims for vibration-related conditions, which included HAVS, since July 1998, of which 18 have been successful.
Mr Booth believes the condition is more common than the figures reveal and wonders how many others also suffer from HAVS but don't realise it. It's an important question to ask those in at-risk industries as HAVS may be reversible if caught early and vibration exposure ceased.
Overseas research shows HAVS is widespread among certain industries.
The Health and Safety Executive in the UK reported about 2 million British workers are exposed to levels of vibrations where there is a "clear risk" of developing HAVS.
A 2003 Swedish study in the car repair industry concludes HAVS is common among mechanics, with 25 per cent of subjects showing neurological symptoms in their hands.
New Zealand's Department of Labour classifies HAVS as a schedule 2 disease, and although this means it's recognised as a condition caused in the workplace, it does not automatically guarantee coverage by ACC, which has its own set of criteria.
As far as the department is concerned, HAVS is one of many workplace hazards that employers are legally required to identify and then eliminate, isolate or minimise. It is the responsibility of employers to take all practical steps to ensure employees are not at risk at work.
There are no specific statutory regulations on how to prevent HAVS in the workplace. A department spokesperson says: "We don't have control measures for each hazard in each workplace, that's just impossible. There's so many departments and companies out there. That is for the businesses to identify the risks."
The department does, however, have an "information document", the Occupational Health Tools 2009 report, which offers advice to employers specifically about HAVS.
It lists prevention measures like taking rests from using vibrating machinery and wearing gloves.
It suggests work breaks of 10 to 15 minutes every hour. It suggests employers instruct workers to "keep their hands warm and dry, and not to grip a vibrating tool too tightly. Workers should allow the tool or machine to do the work".
Mr Booth believes the suggestions are grossly inadequate.
"We're so far behind here in New Zealand. The Department of Labour's guidelines are a complete waste of time because there's no infrastructure for risk assessment, health surveillance and [testing in] a controlled environment room," he says.
By comparison, the UK legally requires employers provide appropriate instruction, training and regular health surveillance.
The regulations issue a maximum level of daily vibration exposure that must not be exceeded, as well as a level where employers must step in with control measures.
The regulations are based on similar laws throughout the European Union.
The three-year ordeal has left Mr Booth embittered towards the lack of information, protection and support for workers at risk. "This is just gross incompetency at the highest level. I've been to the Human Rights Commission, the [Health and] Disabilities Commissioner. No one wants to help," he says.
He has a folder 3cm thick stuffed with doctors' letters, overseas research and correspondence with various Government departments.
But he is determined to use his experience to help others suffering from HAVS. "I don't want anyone to go through what I've been through," he says. He is planning to launch a website about the disease and hopes the site will raise awareness while also offering advice to people living with the condition. Above all, he hopes it will prompt the Government to take HAVS more seriously.
The Facts
Industries most likely to involve hand-arm vibration:
Building/maintenance of roads and railways
Construction
Forestry
Foundries
Heavy engineering
Concrete manufacturing
Mines and quarries
Motor vehicle manufacturing/repairs

What is HAVS?

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) affects nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints of the hand, wrist and arm.
It is caused by overexposure to vibrating hand-held tools and machinery.
Early symptoms include tingling and numbness in fingers, loss of strength in hands, fingers going white, then red and painful on recovery.