Worker in industries such as construction, mining, manufacturing and agriculture are at particular risk of exposure to potentially unsafe vibration levels. Exposure can be caused from operation of rotating, reciprocating, and percussive machinery and tools.
Hand-arm vibration (HAV) is transferred through the use of hand tools, where a tool operator is gripping or holding a vibrating tool with their hand or arm. It is of particular concern for operators that use rotative power tools such as: angle grinders, jackhammers, impact wrenches and sanders. Exposure levels are significantly higher with such tools.
Whole-body vibration (WBV) is transferred to the body through the torso or legs, when sitting or standing at a vibrating surface. Workers that operate forklifts, trucks, and agricultural vehicles are usually exposed to this type of vibration. Exposure levels are usually higher for those operating agricultural vehicles, due to uneven road surfaces, and for digging and scraping machinery.
The long term effects of vibration have been documented to have negative health impacts.
Signs and symptoms of hand-arm vibration may include:
• Tingling sensations in fingers
• Loss of sensitivity to touch
• Loss of blood flow to fingers (white fingers) • Diminished strength to grip with the hand
Effects of whole-body vibration can include:
• Displaced or degenerated discs in the spinal column
• Chest and abdominal pain
• Vertigo or loss of balance
Legislation in the European Union has brought some of these health effects to light in recent years, and there has been a mandate to limit vibration exposure for workers to ensure their long term well being.
As a worker who may be at risk of exposure to vibration, knowing and understanding the long term health implications, and how to minimize their effects, can help protect you before it is too late.
As an employer, it is important to recognize the issue of vibration in the workplace because it can affect productivity and jeopardize the safety of the workforce. These issues can be overcome by identifying and assessing potential hazards, by educating workers and management alike on them, and by creating reasonable safety guidelines.