EXPOSURE TO VIBRATION: DO YOU KNOW THE LIMIT?
In the engineering industry, many workers are required to operate hand-held power tools and other hand-guided equipment as part of their job, exposing them to potentially high vibration levels. Long term exposure to vibration levels that exceed safety limits puts workers at risk...
Approximately two million people in UK workplaces are at risk of developing Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, commonly referred to as HAVs.
In the engineering industry, many workers are required to operate hand-held power tools and other hand-guided equipment as part of their job, exposing them to potentially high vibration levels. Long term exposure to vibration levels that exceed safety limits puts workers at risk of painful injuries to fingers, hands and arms that may lead to working days lost for both the individual and the business they work for.
Injuries associated with vibration are permanent but the cause is preventable. Employers should implement effective vibration risk assessments and monitoring to help limit exposure and prevent workers from developing life changing conditions.
The health issues associated with excessive exposure to vibration, often with agonising symptoms, are divided into three subgroups below:
Vibration White Finger (Raynaud’s disease) - This is a vascular disorder caused by the restricted blood flow, causing visible blanching of the hands. In 2016,there were 455 new claims for this condition.
Neurological Vibration (Carpel Tunnel Syndrome) –This problem causes tingling and numbness in the fingers resulting in a lack of dexterity. In 2016, there were 240 new claims of workers suffering from this syndrome.
Muscle and Soft Tissue Damage – This includes conditions such as arthritis, changes to muscles and tendonitis, which can result in loss of grip and strength.
Each of these conditions could lead to social and financial implications for workers, as the pain can make it difficult to work and socialise. Any significant time off work due to sickness or injury will have implications on productivity and business efficiency, as well as potential fines if the risks haven’t been correctly identified and managed.
In July 2017, a Cheshire based fabricators was fined £120,000 for failing to protect a worker at its steel component factory. The welder complained to supervisors that equipment was causing him numbness and tingling in his hands but he was told to continue his work regardless.
A second incident occurred in a Rochdale-based plastic and engineering firm that was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,171.00. A worker in the company’s trimming department was exposed to vibration from sanding tools, resulting in a HAV diagnosis. An HSE investigation found that vibration risk assessments at the company were not suitable or sufficient.
How to monitor
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations (2005) stipulate employers must limit and ultimately eliminate the risks of vibration by ensuring exposure is ‘low as reasonably practical’.Monitoring is essential to identify high risk activities and areas of concern and remain compliant to legislation.
Different jobs emit different levels of vibration and for all jobs where tools and machinery are used, employers must adhere to the government standards of safety, not exceeding the daily exposure limit for vibration (ELV) as 5 m/s2. This value is the maximum level of vibration an employee can be exposed to on any single day and if levels exceed this, equipment should not be operated, until steps have been taken to reduce exposure. Employers must also focus on the daily exposure value (EAV), which should not exceed 2.5 m/s2. If worker exposure is regularly exceeding the EAV limit, employers must consider if the process can be changed and work can be done in a different way.
Changing the process
Monitoring enables employers to learn more about the risks from vibration exposure. The HSE provides clear recommendations to employers on reducing the risks and changing work processes accordingly. Advice includes modifying the work to reduce the amount of time using hand tools, switching to better tools with lower vibration levels and training workers to ensure correct processes are followed all the time.
It is important for employers to measure the actual vibration levels of tools on a regular basis, as the vibration levels deteriorate with time. To ensure exposure does not exceed regulations, high powered tools are now designed with estimated vibration levels and employers should use this as a guide, indicating how long workers can safely operate these tools for. Sustained exposure levels to just below the limits still leaves workers at risk of developing health conditions and education and close observations of the tools and workforce will ensure ill-health problems are detected.
In a busy engineering sector, operating tools is an essential part of the job and a daily task for workers. Monitoring provides valuable information to reduce and prevent vibration exposure. Without this data, workers’ could suffer the consequences for the rest of their life.
Tim Turney, Technical Product Manager Casella
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This article was first published in the AIHA online magazine