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CCOHS Safety Tips: Bad vibes in the workplace

How to lower exposure and avoid vibration hazards

December 17, 2014   Matt Powell

Power tools generate hand-arm vibration. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

Power tools generate hand-arm vibration. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

Vibration is harmless in small doses, but the effects of regular and frequent exposure from mechanization are potentially disabling and permanent.

Whole-body vibration affects people who operate mobile machines or who work near stationary machines that vibrate. Among those affected are workers in foundries, shipyards and those who sit or stand on a vibrating floor or seat, such as operators of off-road vehicles.

Whole-body vibration produces effects similar to motion sickness such as fatigue, insomnia, stomach problems, headaches and shakiness.

To help reduce the risk of injury, vehicles and mobile equipment should be well maintained. Properly inflate tires or replace solid tires on lift trucks, sweepers and other mobile equipment. Have proper seats with armrests and lumbar support, and air-ride suspension or suspended cabs.

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Hand-arm vibration from certain powered tools such as grinders, sanders, drills and impact wrenches, cause a range of conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and vibration-induced white finger (VWF).

It can also damage blood vessels in the hands and fingers by reducing blood flow and harming skin, nerves and muscles. A worker may experience a tingling sensation or numbness in the fingers, a weakened grip and general clumsiness. When the fingers are cold and wet, the tips might turn white or blue, then red and sore. With continued use of high-vibration tools, symptoms will likely progress to permanent numbness in the hands, inability to pick up small objects and more frequent episodes of white finger.

Workers exposed to vibration should wear sufficient clothing to keep them warm and dry, which encourages good blood circulation.

The best way to avoid injury and lasting damage is to minimize exposure to vibration. Workers should have long rest breaks or shake-free tasks between exposures. Employees who are older, have back problems or are pregnant should avoid long periods of exposure.

Use non-vibrating tools whenever possible, or tools that have built-in features that reduce vibration. Limit use to a few hours per day and days per week with breaks at least 10 minutes per hour and alternate vibrating and non-vibrating work.

Refer to exposure limits or threshold limit values, as recommended by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists or as outlined in other standards and regulations. In many work applications manual tasks can be mechanized, removing workers from harmful exposures to vibration.

Teach employees about the health risks of vibration, how to identify early signs and symptoms of injury, select and use appropriate tools, and find alternative safe work practices.

At the first sign of vibration disease, workers should consult with their healthcare professionals, and talk to their supervisors and/or health and safety committees to find ways to reduce or eliminate exposure.

This article appears in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of PLANT.


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