UP TO 460,000 construction workers are exposed to potentially harmful levels of hand-arm vibration every week.
And almost one million could be at risk of contracting 'vibration white finger'.
The shocking statistics have emerged from new research which suggests that the problem of hand-arm vibration is even worse among site workers than previously feared.
Investigations by the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research and the Medical Research Council also found that few contractors had health surveillance systems for vibration-induced injuries.
Brian Coles, a Health and Safety Executive white finger expert, said: 'Construction stands out as the industry with most peopleexposed to vibration. The report suggests that workers such as bricklayers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers, who regularly use hand-held power tools, are reporting symptoms of white finger and nerve damage.'
The research will form an important part of the UK's input to a new European Commission directive on hand-arm and whole body vibration.
Under the proposed directive, employers would have to assess employees' exposure to vibration and take specific measures against breaches of maximumexposure levels.
Tools which may put site workers at risk include concrete breakers, percussive hammers,vibratory compactors, sanders or drills, concrete vibro-thickeners or concrete levelling vibro-tables, hand-held grinders, rock drills, caulking guns and pneumatic drills.
The report says that any tool which causes tingling or numbness after five to 10 minutes' continuous use is putting the operator at risk of injury.
Stuart Gillings, occupational health specialist at legal firm Bolt Burdon, said that the report could lead to increased litigation as white finger sufferers in the industry seek compensation from employers.
He said: 'It is likely that more construction workers will turn to lawyers for advice on potential personal injury claims, as their colleagues in other industries have done.
'But they may face evidential difficulties.
'For example, they will need toremember and name the different types of tools they used, the way they used them, and so on.'