When using or operating tools and machinery, exposure to vibration can cause permanent damage.
This blog covers the occupational risks of vibration for employers whose business involves using hand-guided powered equipment, powered machines that process handheld materials and frequent use of handheld power tools. In addition, workers and self-employed persons that use vibrating equipment should also be aware of the risks.
What are the risks of tool vibration?
Regular and frequent exposure to vibration can lead to permanent health effects. Ill health is most likely to occur when contact with a vibrating tool or work process is a regular part of a person’s job.
The risks of vibration include damage to joints, muscles, circulation and sensory nerves, and this could lead to pain, absence from work or disability.
The common health conditions caused by ‘over’ vibration are laid out below:
HAVS can be caused by handheld powered equipment, hand-guided machinery and hand-fed machines. Hand-arm vibration can cause vibration white finger, permanent and painful numbness, tingling sensations in the hands and arms, painful joints and muscle weakening. There is also evidence that it may cause carpel tunnel syndrome.
Vibration White Finger (VWF)
Vibration white finger is a long-term condition linked to HAVS that causes numbness or tingling in the fingers. These adverse effects are often accompanied by whitening (or blanching) of the fingertips. VWF (and other symptoms of HAVS) can be prevented, but there is currently no cure.
Vibration white finger can develop in one or both hands as a result of using power tools and machinery. VWF tends to affect people in occupations such as:
- Automobile assembly and repair
- Metalworking trades
- Quarry drilling
- Stone carving
WBV is caused by sitting, standing or lying on a vibrating surface. Mobile machine drivers, including certain tractors, forklift trucks and quarrying or earth-moving machinery, may be exposed to WBV.
Vibration transmitted through the feet can also be a problem for employees that stand on stationary plant platforms.
WBV can lead to headaches, motion sickness, chronic back pain, stomach problems and sleep/visual disturbances.
Is there any specific legislation concerned with vibration hazards?
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 is the primary regulation concerned with occupational exposure to vibration.
If employers comply with the vibration regulations and follow guidance, it may be possible to introduce measures and limit exposure to prevent hand-arm and whole-body vibration.
How can you control the risks of tool vibrations?
To prevent injuries associated with vibration, you’ll need to identify and assess the who, what and where of every activity taking place on site. For example, what equipment are employees using? What are the exposures from the task they are doing? Where is the work taking place? Is the worker comfortable and unrestricted?
After assessing these influences, you’ll need to put sufficient control measures into place. Protective equipment and shock-absorbing workwear can help substantially, but limiting exposure and implementing good work practices are likely to have a long-term positive effect.
Calculating vibration levels can help employers and workers assess safe exposure in line with regulations. Levels of vibration are known as Exposure Action Values (EAVs) and Exposure Limit Values (ELVs). Employers must prevent further daily exposure when these values are reached/exceeded.
For hand-arm vibration (HAVS), the daily ELV is 5 m/s2 A(8), and the daily EAV is 2.5 m/s2 A(8).
For whole-body vibration (WBV), the daily ELV is 1.15 m/s2 A(8), and the daily EAV is 0.5 m/s2 A(8).
The Hireman has created a Hand-Arm Vibration Calculator to make visualising safe tool/equipment use accessible and easy to understand. All workers/employers have to do is input (up to 6) products/tools, and the calculator will display the daily exposure m/s² A(8) and exposure points.
Don’t take risks when it comes to overexposure
From electric power washers to needle guns, power tools and machinery are essential for day-to-day tasks on construction sites everywhere. However, there is no excuse for complacency when it comes to worker safety and proactively assessing safe usage levels to prevent life-changing injuries.
Use our hand-arm vibration calculator for clear guidance on ELV and EAV levels.
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