HAVS: Slow Progression, Lasting Damage

Aaron Skemp, Product Specialist, Ergodyne

The symptoms of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) may take years to appear, but once they do, there’s no reversing the damage. Hand-Arm Vibration (HAVS) aka “White Finger,” is a permanent medical condition that causes loss of feeling in fingers, hands and arms. Extreme cases can result in loss of parts or complete digits.

What Causes HAVS?

This debilitating industrial injury develops over time, as the repeated vibrations from tools and machinery cause nerve damage and puncture arteries in the fingers and hands, limiting blood circulation. Because fingers can turn white due to insufficient blood flow, the condition is also sometimes known as vibration white finger.

Symptoms

Early symptoms of HAVS can include pain; intermittent tingling and numbness in the fingers; and loss of strength in the hands. Symptoms can also progress to blanching of fingers (white fingers), which negatively affects movement and can cause irreversible pain (particularly during cold weather). Continued use of vibrating tools will only make symptoms worse. At its very worst, skin can become gangrenous.

Solutions

While there’s a list of best practices safety experts recommend for reducing long-term damage, work gloves are an easy place to start. Although wearing gloves may seem like a common-sense preventive measure, choosing the right kind of gloves can make a significant difference.

Anti-Vibration Gloves

It must be noted that, just because a glove claims anti-vibration properties, it doesn’t mean they have actually been third-party tested to meet the requirements of ISO 10819 // ANSI S2.73—the global standard for anti-vibration gloves.

ANSI/ISO standard anti-vibration gloves require:

  • Full-fingered design
  • Uninterrupted palm pad from base to fingertips
  • Padding ≤ 8mm thick in the palm and ≥ 0.55 times the palm padding thickness in the fingers and thumb
  • Reduction of “medium-range frequencies” (TM) by ≥ 10% vs. bare hand
  • Reduction of “high-range frequencies” (TH) by ≥ 40% vs. bare hand

There are other factors to consider in an anti-vibration glove; they include the following:

Wrist support:

Vibrating tools are often heavy, and the tasks they tackle can cause repetitive motion strain. Built-in wrist supports help guard against the double trouble of vibration and strain.

Grip:

Vibrating tools require a firm hold, often on handles or other interfaces. Gripping palm materials ensure that tools can be handled safely and securely to get the job done right.

Impact Gloves

Though not ANSI/ISO certified for anti-vibration, impact gloves offer enhanced shock, impact and vibration dampening when dexterity simply cannot be sacrificed.

Half-finger design:

Again, a design like this won’t pass ANSI/ISO standards (remember, they need to be full fingered), but half-finger impact gloves offer a considerable measure of shock-absorbing protection, while keeping those phalanges free for fine motor manipulation.

Full-finger design

Unlike a certified anti-vibration glove, which requires uninterrupted padding from the palm to the finger tips, full-finger impact gloves forego the padding in the fingers, but keep it in key areas of the palm to absorb the blow.

Of course, no amount of prevention and common sense can stamp out equipment vibration entirely. Some tools and equipment are just necessarily constructed to vibrate, so it’s important to observe whatever measures we do have, including wearing the proper hand protection.