Every day, millions of employees in the construction industry are exposed to vibration at work as a result of machines, vehicles, and tools. However, this constant vibration exposure is more than just a simple nuisance. It has been known to cause serious health problems, from hand-arm vibration syndrome to vibration white finger. If we want to work toward appropriately measuring and reducing vibration levels in factories, vehicles, buildings, and other structures and machines, we must first understand how vibration causes injury. Today’s brief article goes over everything you need to know about vibration hazards on your jobsite, including how you can assess and eliminate risk. For further information on how you can account for vibration hazards in your jobsite safety plan, speak to one of our Tennessee OSHA attorneys.
Related: Assessing Workplace Hazards
How Does Vibration Cause Injury?
When a construction worker experiences excessive levels of vibration, certain functions are disrupted, such as the flow of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and sensory input to our brain. The less oxygen and fewer nutrients being transferred to the corresponding cells and tissues, the more likely these cells are to become vulnerable to cell death or necrosis. Depending on the type of excessive vibration exposure, these cells can be located in a worker’s hands, fingers, or back. Prolonged exposure to excessive levels of vibration can severely affect the worker’s ability to continue work as well last the quality of their life.
Hand-Arm Vibration vs. Whole-Body Vibration
Generally speaking, there are two classifications for occupational vibration exposure: whole-body vibration (WBV) and hand-arm vibration (HAV). Hand arm vibration is a potential hazard for any employees who work with hand-held tools or hand-guided machinery that exposes their hands, arms, or fingers to excessive levels of vibration like drills, chain saws, or angle grinders. Vibration is typically transmitted from the handles or surface of the workpiece via the palms and fingers up into the hands or arms. Employees who are exposed to this type of vibration may suffer from hand-arm vibration syndrome, white fingers, carpal tunnel, decreased grip strength, and more.
On the other hand, whole-body vibration is mainly concerned with large shocks or jolts rather than prolonged high levels of vibration. This type of vibration is transmitted to the entire body via the seat or the feet by driving or riding in motor vehicles like fork trucks or through standing on vibrating floors like those near power presses in a stamping plant. These workers may suffer from lower back pain as well as disorders of the sensory functions.
How to Assess and Mitigate Risk
Like all workplace hazards, the amount of risk can be determined by the time of exposure and magnitude of the vibration. To determine whether the level or amplitude of the vibration causes risk, it’s important to read the operator’s manual for the tool or machinery in question. If you find that your workers truly are at risk from excessive levels of vibration, there are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce or eliminate this risk, such as:
- Train workers about the hazards of working with sources of vibration exposure
- Restrict the amount of time a worker uses a vibrating tool or piece of machinery during the workday
- Instruct workers to keep their hands warm and dry and to grip tools lightly
- Alternate between vibrating and non-vibrating tools
- Use damping techniques or vibration isolators on equipment
If you believe your workers may be at risk of exposure to vibration hazards on your jobsite and aren’t sure how to proceed, contact one of our OSHA attorneys.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.