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 U.S workers are exposed to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome.[¹]
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 explained below:
Vibration White Finger (Raynaud’s disease) is a vascular disorder caused by the restricted blood flow, causing visible blanching of the hands[²]. Neurological Vibration (Carpel Tunnel Syndrome) causes tingling and numbness in the fingers resulting in a lack of dexterity.[³] It also causes Muscle and Soft Tissue Damage which includes conditions such as arthritis and changes to muscles and tendonitis in which can result to loss of grip.
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. Based on a study conducted in 1974, NIOSH estimates construction equates for the majority cases of HAV'S followed by farming and manufacturing [⁴].
How to monitor?
Monitoring is essential to identify high risk activities aswell as to remain compliant to legislation, therefore companies must adhere and take reasonable action to protect worker safety.
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 (TLV) 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.
Changing the process
Monitoring enables employers to learn more about the risks from vibration exposure. 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.
Tim Turney, Global Marketing Manager, Casella
This article was first published in the AIHA online magazine