According to the Health and Safety Executive, two million people in the UK are at risk from the harmful effects of exposure to vibration, yet it is not difficult to apply control measures and avoid these risks.
Human vibration is classified in two ways – hand-arm vibration (HAV) and whole-body vibration (WBV). HAV is transmitted into workers’ hands and arms, and can occur during the use of hand-held vibrating tools such as drills, chainsaws and grinders. It can also arise during the use of hand-guided equipment, such as planers and sanders, or by the holding of materials being processed by machines. Industries where exposure to HAV is particularly high include manufacturing, construction, motor, foundries and heavy engineering.
WBV comes from machines or vehicles producing elevated vibration levels that shake the entire body. It is transmitted through the seat of work vehicles or feet of employees who drive or operate heavy mobile machines such as tractors, lorries and forklift trucks in industries such as forestry, quarrying and construction.
All new machinery built in or imported into Europe has to comply with the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC, which contains precise requirements concerning noise and vibration. under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulation 2005, which implement the European Physical Agents (Vibration) Directive 2002/44/EC, employers have a duty of care to assess and identify measures to eliminate or minimise risks from exposure to vibration to protect the health of employees.
The management of vibration begins with the risk assessment of any equipment equipment that produces vibration. Controls, information, training and improved working practices can then be put in place after consulting employees and checking the machinery they use.
Vibration meters are used to measure the amount of vibration, alerting the user to stop using the tools or equipment when they are approaching the exposure limit value so that they can avoid harmful effects.
Unlike noise, vibration has characteristics in different directions, making it essential to measure vibration ton each of its three axes independently and preferably simultaneously.
Factors to take into account when measuring vibration include:
- The length of time the vibrating tool is used (trigger time)
- The identification of operations that make up an exposure pattern
- The measurement of vibration for each operation
- The amplitude, magnitude, direction and frequency of vibration
Record should be kept of each worker’s exposure to vibration, so that control measures such as improved tools and machines and reduced operating times, can be implemented.
Following this, the success of the policy to reduce vibration should be measured and through training given the workforce. Employers should also make sure all equipment and machinery is properly maintained.
Minimising the risks from vibration brings huge benefits to both the business and its operatives and reduces costs to both.
Not doing anything to control vibration can lead to potential prosecutions/claims, heavy fines and lost productivity and profit for the business. For the employee, regular and frequent exposure can result in ill health, pain and distress, nerve, muscle and joint damage, limit of tasks, inability to do fine work, reduced ability to work in cold or damp conditions, and reduced grip strength, affecting the ability to work safely. There is a risk of permanent musculoskeletal, neurological, and vascular effects, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, with sustained use of vibrating tools. Taking action on workplace vibration makes total sense for all concerned.