Q: We have employees who are exposed to vibration in the hands. Is there a certain brand or type of anti-vibration glove that we should buy?
A: Anti-vibration gloves are used to reduce the transmission of vibration to the hands in certain job situations. An employee who uses a jackhammer or a drill, or even an employee who is situated at a workstation with a tool or machine that vibrates, might be exposed to harmful vibration. However, anti-vibration gloves are not always the answer.
In addition to exacerbating other musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) risk factors, exposure to vibration in the hands may cause health concerns. Raynaud’s Phenomenon, also known as “white finger”, is a disorder commonly associated with people who are exposed to vibration either through work or recreational activities.
But before investing in anti-vibration gloves, first focus on the source of the vibration (e.g., a power tool). Once the source of the vibration has been isolated, a traditional hierarchy of controls should be followed. Gloves would fall under personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE solutions are found at the bottom of this hierarchy. This means that before buying a pair of anti-vibration gloves, there are other controls to investigate.
Engineering controls, which reside at the top of the control hierarchy, seek to reduce or eliminate the risk factor source through design. For example, if the vibration is coming from a commonly used tool like a riveter or drill, a new model with vibration dampening features built into the tool may be in order. If a large machine or table that the employee’s hands contact is causing vibration, it may be possible to dampen the vibration at the source by placing the machine or table on a special mat to reduce vibration transmission.
Administrative controls are the next level of control. An administrative control looks at ways that the system can help minimize exposure. Developing a regular tool maintenance program, for example, is an administrative control. If a machine or tool is the source of the vibration, is this normal? A power tool may be broken or need maintenance, causing it to produce more vibration than usual. This can affect both the comfort of the employee and the quality of the job. Duration and repetition also play a role in vibration-related injuries. Job rotation and scheduled breaks are ways to limit exposure duration.
If neither engineering nor administrative controls can reduce the hazard, the next step is to look at PPE, generally considered the least successful approach. Anti-vibration gloves can be found through an Internet search or usually through companies that provide health and safety products. Anti-vibration gloves are typically made of a foam or gel substance which dampens the vibration from tools to the hands. As with any glove, they need to properly fit the employee. Care should also be taken that the employee is not forced to grip a tool harder to compensate for the lack of tactile feedback through the gloves.
It is important to understand that vibration happens at different frequencies and amplitudes. The frequency characteristics of the source must be matched with gloves that are effective in that range. Check with the glove manufacturer and consult the following resources for additional information for hand-arm (segmental) vibration.
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2002-08-01.