Vibrations at work
In the last 12 years, there have been over 16,000 claims made against employers for vibration related health issues. The way exposure to excessive levels of vibration affects the body can be broadly categorised in two ways:
Hand Arm Vibration (HAV)
Hand-arm vibration occurs when a person holds or guides a vibrating tool or machine with their hand and vibration is transmitted from the tool to the hand and along the arm. This is typified by tingling and numbness in the hands and fingers. Often, this is accompanied by pain, weakness, and an inability to complete fine handling.
The most common associated aliment with HAV is Vibration White Finger (VWF).
HAV exposure can occur in many different jobs including construction, maintenance, forestry, engineering, manufacturing, and motor vehicle repair.
Whole Body Vibration (WBV)
Typically, WBV is described as the shock you feel when you stand or sit on a vehicle, machine or surface. Vibration is transmitted through supporting surfaces such as the feet of a standing individual or the buttocks of a seated individual.
Exposure to high levels of WBV can lead to severe and long lasting back pain, spine damage and neck problems and is commonly associated with industries such as agriculture or extractive construction.
The main piece of legislation devised to control HAV and WBV is the ‘Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005’. This legislation sets out two principal levels of daily exposure:
Exposure Action Values (EAV’s) – defined as the level of daily exposure to vibration above which an employer is required to take action; and
Exposure Limit Values (ELV’s) – defined as the maximum amount of vibration an employee may be exposed to in a single day.
This legislation also sets out general duties, stating that employers must:
Take steps to ensure the risks from exposure to vibration are assessed and controlled.
Provide suitable instruction, information and training to employees on the risks of vibration in the workplace and on actions to control the risk.
Provide suitable health surveillance to assess the effectiveness of control measures.
The ‘Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations’ states that manufacturers must supply written documentation of vibration emissions from their machines.
The overarching principle of the legislation is to reduce the risks from vibration to the lowest level reasonably practicable and to reduce exposure to as low a level as reasonably practicable if the exposure is above the EAV.
What can you do?
As an employer, you must take all reasonable steps to protect your employees from harm whilst at work. Some of the controls you can look at to help effectively manage vibration exposure in your workplace are:
Alternative methods of work - Can you use another method to get the job done?
Automate the work - Use equipment that does not require human input.
Limit exposure - Make the use of high emission machinery as brief as possible. Buy and use low vibration emission tools - select tools and equipment with built-in anti-vibration features.
Change the operator regularly - If continuous use of vibrating equipment is required, rotate operators on and off at regular intervals.
Train employees - Show your staff how to operate equipment and machinery in line with manufactures guidelines – proper grip and hand-hold techniques.
Maintain tools properly – Regular maintenance will ensure that your tools will operate to their optimum performance
Provide adequate PPE - Keep employees warm and dry; this will encourage good blood flow to fingers and hands and help prevent VWF. Also consider use of anti-vibration gloves.
WBV - Consider suspension seats and type of tyres, regular maintenance of vehicles (including seats and suspension) and filling in potholes on unmade roads.