Vibration in the workplace is a widespread hazard. Two million people in the UK are at risk from the harmful effects of exposure to vibration, yet it can easily be avoided if effectively measured, monitored and controlled
Often taken too lightly by both employers and employees, regular and frequent exposure to vibration can lead to nerve, muscle and joint damage.
Vibration is divided into two main types – hand-arm vibration (HAV) and whole-body vibration (WBV). HAV is transmitted via work procedures into workers’ hands and arms and can occur during the use of any handheld vibrating power tools. WBV 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. WBV comes from machines or vehicles producing elevated vibration levels that shake the entire body.
Employers must, by law, assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to vibration to protect employees’ health. Vibration is covered by the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, which implement the European Physical Agents (Vibration) Directive 2002/44/EC in the UK.
All new machinery built in or imported into Europe has to comply with the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC, which tightens up the requirements concerning vibration. Suppliers must provide information on the vibration emission value of their equipment.
Manage and monitor vibration
Vibration meters, such as those available from Svantek, are used to measure the amount of vibration from power tools or over the whole body.
These meters alert the user to stop the activity when they are approaching the maximum levels for exposure.
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 and the typical exposure time for each operation.
What could go wrong?
Not taking action to control vibration can lead to potential prosecutions /claims and lost productivity. For the employee it can result in ill health, pain and distress, limiting 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.
Employees can also suffer potential musculoskeletal, neurological, and vascular effects on hand/arm such as carpal tunnel syndrome and the risk of permanent damage with sustained usage of vibrating tools.
It is clear that the wise employer will monitor vibration and then manage it, using a well-thought-out plan to control exposure to prevent all these potential unwanted effects. Ensuring that control measures are properly applied is not difficult.
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