Personal Protective Equipment

Hand Protection: Can Gloves Prevent Vibration Injury?

Have you ever used a string trimmer to trim the edges of your yard? How about using a chainsaw to clean up dead tree limbs after a storm? Maybe you’ve used a power sander to refinish the floors in your home. After each of these activities, you might have experienced tingling and numbness in your fingers, hands, and lower arms. That’s caused by exposure to the vibration of the power tool you were using. If you use these tools only occasionally, your hands will recover. But workers who use vibrating tools every day are at risk of permanent damage.

For workers who routinely use hand-controlled power tools, the vibration and tingling can ultimately lead to permanent nerve and blood vessel damage in the hands, a condition called “Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome,” or HAVS. HAVS can leave workers with a weakened grip, permanent numbness, and skin discoloration called “white finger” or “dead finger.” Great Britain’s Health and Safety Executive—Great Britain’s counterpart to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—suggests that workers may be at increased risk of HAVS if they use:

  • Hammer action tools for more than about 15 minutes per day; or
  • Rotary and other powered hand tools for more than about 1 hour per day.

Are Gloves the Solution?

To reduce this hazard, some employers have equipped workers with vibration-absorbing gloves. But do these gloves really protect workers? Researchers at the National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) have been reviewing the research and doing some testing of their own.

Think you have no time to train? Think again. BLR’s 7-Minute Safety Trainer helps you fulfill key OSHA-required training tasks in as little as 7 minutes. Try it at no cost and see!

There are three factors that affect how much vibration is transmitted to an operator’s hands:

  • The type of tool;
  • The range of vibration emitted by the tool; and
  • The directions from which the vibrations come.

NIOSH researchers tested four different types of commercially available vibration-reducing gloves, evaluating their effectiveness when used with jackhammers, drills, grinders, riveters, and other common power tools. Here is what NIOSH found:

  • With hand tools such as grinders and saws that generate medium-to-high vibration frequencies, the gloves absorbed from 5%–20% of the vibrations to the palm.
  • With tools like pavement tampers and vibrating forks that create lower-frequency vibrations, there was more variation from glove to glove. Some of the gloves slightly decreased the transmission of vibration, while others slightly increased transmission.

Effective, 7-minute sessions providing comprehensive safety training at an average cost of $1 a day. Get the details.

NIOSH found that vibration-reducing gloves do not make it safe for workers to use vibrating hand-controlled tools for extended periods of time, day after day. To protect workers, NIOSH recommends that employers implement multiple strategies for reducing vibration exposures, including:

  • Finding alternative methods to perform tasks that require these types of tools;
  • Using low-vibration machinery;
  • Ensuring that machinery is properly maintained; and
  • Limiting the time that workers spend using power tools.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at situations where wearing work gloves can create a greater hazard for workers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.