Q&A: HAVS Still a Threat

Joseph D. McGarry, Gloves-Online.com President & CEOThe persistent problem of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome is intimately connected with protective gloves because the illness is linked to vibration exposure and first affects an exposed worker's fingers, manifesting itself as numbness or tingling. Extensive exposure can cause tissue damage. Vibration expert Don Wasserman, formerly of NIOSH, conducted studies in the 1970s with his vibration group that identified HAVS in foundry and shipyard workers who used pneumatic tools. Piecework, which caused some workers to grip their tools more tightly and strongly as they worked hard and fast, accelerated the onset of the disease, they found.

Joseph D. McGarry is president of GO Gloves and founder of Gloves-Online Inc., which provides gloves to customers via www.gloves-online.com and http://industrial.gloves-online.com. McGarry has more than 25 years' experience in the protective glove industry. He's an active blogger at http://gloveguru.blogspot.com about gloves news and issues. McGarry said he's frequently contacted by safety people and loss control professionals seeking hand protection solutions. They need to know how to choose the right gloves, and they need to know about vibration, he said. McGarry discussed the HAVS problem during this Feb. 27, 2009, e-mail exchange with OH&S Editor Jerry Laws:

OH&S: Nine years from now we’ll reach the centennial of the year Dr. Alice Hamilton first identified what we now call Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome as a risk faced by quarry workers who handled vibrating tools. Yet you wrote recently that a million workers are at risk for the disease even now. Why is this?

Joseph McGarry: Eight percent of U.S. workers report exposure to vibrating tools more then 4 hours per day; 50 percent of the 1.5 million exposed workers will develop symptoms related to HAVS; and the latency period of vascular symptoms can be 6 years or more. (NIOSH 1989 & Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Sept. 1998)

OH&S: In which industries in the United States and elsewhere in the world is HAVS a hazard today?

McGarry: Construction (hand tools); Farming (gasoline chain saws); Metal working (hand tools); Steel (furnace cleaning using powered hand tools); Lumber and wood (gasoline chain saws); Furniture manufacturing (hand tools); Mining (pneumatic tools); Truck and auto manufacturing (hand tools); and Foundries (hand tools). Construction alone represents over 500,000 workers potentially exposed to Hand-Arm Vibration.

OH&S: Anti-vibration gloves that are certified as meeting the ANSI standard are helpful at reducing a worker's vibration exposure. Are workers even aware such gloves are available?

McGarry: Based on my experience, they only become aware once they experience problems (pain or numbness). It's really distressing to field the calls that come in and hear the anxieties these workers experience. I attribute it to lack of knowledge by the worker or a misdiagnosis by a health care provider.

OH&S: Are anti-vibration gloves a top seller for the industry or low compared with other glove types?

McGarry: Anti-vibration gloves represent only a fraction of work glove sales.

OH&S: Gloves alone won't eliminate vibration exposure. What other factors affecting HAVS – including cold temperatures, dampness, smoking, etc. – should a safety and health manager be aware of with a worker population that uses vibrating tools?

McGarry: Impact transmission issues and grip force. Grip force is a major and commonly overlooked factor. Therefore, it is very important to pay attention to the ergonomic design of the glove; wear a proper size; and make sure they provide excellent grip to reduce the grip force required to hold onto a tool.

OH&S What are your tips for making the right selection of anti-vibration gloves?

McGarry: Look for gloves which are certified and comply to the ISO 10819 standard. This is a glove standard. Although there are many impact resistant (Palm padded) gloves on the market, most fail to reduce vibration. Some padding transmits vibrations. I think there is a great deal of confusion between vibrations versus impact.

OH&S: What about engineering and/or administrative controls to lessen vibration exposures? Shouldn't a prevention program start with them?

McGarry: Absolutely! I think it starts with an awareness program along with a prevention program. However, I'm not qualified to make a professional statement since I'm not a trained safety engineer. I'm a glove engineer and technician. I think tool manufacturers can play a key role here.

OH&S Can you suggest some HAVS resources to help workers and safety managers learn more about this disease?

McGarry: Unfortunately, there is not much out there. My endeavor into anti-vibration gloves was customer-driven, and I had difficulty to provide a "real anti-vibration" glove until I discovered the Ergodyne gloves and learned about their AV Glove technology.

Please note that I had the same questions when I searched for "good" AV gloves to address the numerous requests from our customers. There are an abundant amount of impact gloves on the market, but they do not adequately provide "true" vibration resistance. (See my answer to your sixth question, above.)

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