...pressure.” All along the drivetrain of a power tool, designers are reducing vibration, from bit to grip handle.

Sweden-based Atlas Copco, which began manufacturing ergonomic tools in the early 1980s, puts springs between the handle and the tool body. Just padding the handles—a common marketing gimmick for consumer tools—is not enough, experts say. “It contributes the least to the reduction, but it usually looks good,” notes Schimmel.

Slipping on a pair of low-vibration gloves—many contractors spend thousands of dollars a year to outfit workers with them—is just one half of the solution. “Most of the time, people just slap on a pair of gloves. They don’t really look at the tool,” says Willie Piispanen, senior director of safety and health for Washington Group International, Boise, Idaho.

Scientists and industrial hygienists agree that wearing gloves in combination with the new tools is the best way to mitigate risk “Don’t think that you can go on the cheap—buy a $30 pair of gloves and think you are home free with the stuff you have been using,” Wasserman says. The tools and gloves are an extra cost,  but one that is “a heck of a lot cheaper than a comp claim,” he says.

Vibration Levels For Common Tools
Tool Type
Road breakers
5 m/s2
12 m/s2
20 m/s2
Demolition hammers
8 m/s2
15 m/s2
25 m/s2
Hammer drills/combi hammers
6 m/s2
9 m/s2
25 m/s2
Needle scalers
5 m/s2
18 m/s2
Scabblers (hammer type
40 m/s2
Angle grinders
4 m/s2
8 m/s2
Clay spades/jigger picks
16 m/s2
Chipping hammers (metal
18 m/s2
Stone-working hammers
10 m/s2
30 m/s2
6 m/s2
2 m/s2
4 m/s2
Sanders (random orbital)
7-10 m/s2

Breaking Through

Most tool companies have to keep retail costs low to compete, so the premium for tools with built-in vibration reduction averages about 15%, suppliers say. They reduce vibration by 30% to 50%, the makers say.

Contractors tuned into the problem are willing to pay the price. The extra cost is “not a big deal,” says Cindy DePrater, safety and loss-control director for New York City-based Turner Construction Co. “If it saves anybody from having carpal tunnel or nerve-ending damage, that’s a miniscule drop in the bucket.”

Since workers usually do not spend the entire day gripping a tool, some suppliers offer two versions. Users can choose based on their expected levels of risk and exposure. “The vibration issue becomes a factor, especially if you are going to be using the tools for any length of time,” Piispanen says.

Some models are just too hard on the hands to be left alone. Hilti, for example, offers heavy-duty breakers in low-vibration versions only, while users looking for smaller tools, such as hammer drills, can choose between a normal and low-vibration model. But most tools eventually will be offered only in low vibration versions, suppliers predict. In focus group studies, “90% of our customers were asking for the vibration-reduced version,” says Schimmel.

Tudor Van Hampton
More low-vibration tools are on tour at industry conventions, including World of Concrete earlier this year.

“The goal will be 10 years from now not to have a tool that vibrates more than 4-5 m/s2,” says Eric Bernstein, director of concrete tool marketing for Baltimore-based DeWALT Industrial Tool Co. It just introduced a 61-ft-lb electric breaker that retails for $1,499 with vibration of 6.6 m/s2—a worker in Europe could use it for four hours and 40 minutes per day. “We are probably satisfying 90% of the market for a full day of production,” says Bernstein.

Other major power tool companies—Bosch, Makita, Milwaukee, Hitachi and others—have new lines of low-vibration tools out this year and plan to introduce more next year. Booths at this year’s construction exhibitions were filled with low-vibration tools. Next year’s events will feature even more, suppliers say.

The tools may not be mandatory everywhere, but doctors, employers and workers think they are too good to ignore. If safety isn’t enough of a reason to switch, suppliers say there’s a side benefit: Low-vibration tools tend to last longer—they are not tearing themselves apart as much as the older models.