A look at the effectiveness of anti-vibration gloves

If you have ever used a power tool, you may have experienced a tingling sensation in your hands or fingers. If you're just using the tool for occasional projects around the house, the tingling normally goes away.

However, for workers who use power tools as part of the job, regularly and for longer periods, tingling can become more persistent as a symptom of a condition called hand-arm vibration syndrome. It can signal the onset of more severe symptoms of damage to nerves and blood vessels in the hands and arms. Those more advanced symptoms can include severe skin discoloration, numbness, and a weakened grip.

Preventing hand-arm vibration syndrome by reducing exposure to vibration is key. In many workplaces, a prevalent preventive method is the use of vibration-reducing gloves, which are intended to absorb vibration from power tools.

Do they?

Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are examining that question with extensive reviews of the published scientific literature and with laboratory studies focused on better understanding the complex array of factors that may lead from exposure to effect.

In an article published recently in a peer-reviewed journal, the researchers examined glove performance in reducing the transmission of vibrations from the tool to the palm of the hand. The study incorporated three critical factors: the type of tool used, the range of vibration emitted by the tool, and the directions from which the vibration came.

To ensure a representative sample, they tested three styles each of the four different types of commercially available gloves. The researchers tested the gloves on special, high-tech equipment developed in NIOSH's Vibration Lab in Morgantown, West Virginia. The equipment included 3-D testing systems that simulate the wide range of vibration frequencies along the axis of the tool handle, along the user's forearm, and perpendicular to those two directions. To examine the glove effectiveness, the researchers evaluated vibrations measured on jackhammers, drills, grinders, riveters, and many other power tools.

They found that, when used at the medium-to-high frequencies of tools such as grinders and saws, the gloves reduced anywhere from 5% to 20% of the vibrations to the palm. With low-frequency tools, however, such as pavement tampers and vibrating forks, some gloves slightly decreased, while others slightly increased the vibrations transmitted.

The NIOSH scientists are continuing with research to assess the performance of vibration-reducing gloves on vibration transmitted to the fingers. They eventually expect to incorporate findings from their studies and literature review into a NIOSH safety guide. In the meantime, the body of evidence suggests that employers and workers should be cautious in selecting and using vibration-reducing gloves. Consistent with long-standing NIOSH recommendations, the research suggests that reducing vibration at the source and limiting the time using power tools are the best ways to prevent vibration-related injuries. "Other means of vibration control, such as alternative production techniques, low-vibration machinery, routine preventive maintenance, and limiting the time spent using power tools, are far more likely to reduce vibrations and should be used," says NIOSH project officer Ren G. Dong.

To read the most recent papers on this research, click here.