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An Overlooked Health Hazard


Detailed information about why Vibration is an occupational health hazard, what it is, how to assess it and how to protect your workers from vibration.

Vibration is an occupational health hazard that can cause a range of health problems, from minor annoyances to serious and long-term damage. In this article, we will discuss the risks of vibration at work and how to mitigate them. We’ll also look at some specific examples of vibration hazards and what PCBUs and company owners can do to protect their workforce and themselves.

What Is Vibration?

Vibration is a type of mechanical energy that travels through the air or any other medium and is caused by a vibrating object. It can be transmitted through solid objects, like floors, walls and seats, or through liquids, like water, as well as air. When exposed to vibration, it can cause the body to vibrate as well.

This exposure to vibration can cause several health problems, including:

Musculoskeletal disorders: Vibration can cause or contribute to musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and back pain.
Circulatory problems: Vibration can cause blood vessels to constrict, which can lead to circulatory problems such as Raynaud's disease.
Nervous system disorders: Vibration can cause damage to the nervous system, leading to conditions such as vibration white finger and migraine headaches.

What are the different types of vibration?

There are essentially three types of vibration which workers can be exposed to:

  • Vibrations which are transmitted to the whole-body surface, or considerable parts of the body, while the body is immersed in a vibrating medium such as air or water, in which a high intensity sound is travelling through
  • Vibrations which are transmitted across the whole body through a supporting surface, whether that is a standing platform or seat
  • Vibration which are restricted in the parts of the body they affect such as the head and limbs being effect through vibrating power tools, pedals, headrests, or handles.

In terms of occupational hazards, vibrations tend to be classified as either:

Whole body vibrations (WBV)
Segmental vibration, i.e. hand-arm vibrations (HAV)

Each type of vibration can have different effects on workers, depending on the intensity and frequency. For example, mechanical vibration can cause fatigue and discomfort, while acoustic vibration can cause hearing loss. (See Noise Assessment)

Vibration Health Hazard

Vibration Assessment at the workplace

During the assessment of vibration in the workplace, it is important to first identify which type of vibration is present. This can be done through several methods, including visual inspection, measurement tools, and questionnaires.

Once the type of vibration has been identified, the intensity and frequency will be assessed to determine if it is likely to cause any adverse effects on workers.

If necessary, steps should then be taken to reduce or eliminate exposure to vibration for workers.
To minimise exposure for employees, it is important to understand what kind of vibrations are present and how they can affect workers.

There are a number of different causes of vibration, including:

It is important to determine the cause of the vibration before developing an approach or process to minimise the exposure of workers.

Protection against extensive exposure to Vibration

Businesses need to be aware of the health risks associated with vibration in the workplace. By reducing exposure to vibration, they can help reduce the risk of health issues in their workforce. Some ways to reduce exposure include using anti-vibration gloves and pads, maintaining or replacing equipment, and training employees on how to stay safe when working with vibrating tools.

How to protect workers from the risks of vibration at work? Here are some tips:

Vibration-damping materials: If workers use vibrating tools or machinery, provide vibration-damping materials to help reduce the amount of vibration that is transmitted to your body.
Breaks: Workers that are exposed to vibration for long periods of time, should take frequent breaks to give their body a chance to recover.
Vibration-damping clothing: Workers working in a high-vibration environment, should be provided with vibration-damping clothing designed to help protect their body from the effects of vibration.
Personal Protection Equipment (PPE): Provide workers with Appropriate Hearing Protection Equipment (HPE) to assure the vibration can’t affect their hearing.

Contact HSE Australia for more details

Vibration is a common risk in the workplace. Most industries and trades use machines and tools that generate vibration. Therefore, a vibration assessment should be part of a thorough Risk Assessment project.  

If you have any concerns regarding Vibration at your workplace, please contact us.

HSE Australia’s team of Occupational Hygiene Specialists is available 24/7 and Australia-wide.

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