Reducing Vibration Exposure at Work
Updated: Apr 6, 2021
Exposure to vibration at work is usually through the use of hand held power tools such as grinders, sanders, hammer drills, and needle guns to name but a few. The vibration from such tools is transmitted to the hands and arms where damage to the nerves, blood vessels and soft tissues can occur resulting in a debilitating disease known as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).
Before we get into the 'How' of reducing vibration exposure I thought it best we had a quick recap on 'Why' it is necessary to control this health hazard.
Why Control Exposure to Vibration?
There are two main parts to this. Firstly, employers have a legal responsibility to control exposure to vibration and there is a specific piece of legislation that enforces this: The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.
This piece of legislation came into force on the 6th of July 2005 and provides details on how both employers and employees can take preventative measures to reduce the risks associated with vibration exposure.
There are exposure action values within the regulations specifying what actions must be taken as vibration exposure levels meet or exceed these values. An exposure limit value is also stipulated, this is the maximum permitted exposure to vibration for an individual employee. The regulations require employers to:
Reduce exposure of harmful levels of vibration to a minimum.
Assess the vibration risk to employees.
Implement measures to reduce exposure.
Provide health surveillance when the risk assessment indicates a risk to health or employees are likely to be exposed to vibration at or above an exposure action value.
Secondly, there are the health effects from too much exposure to vibration, primarily Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). As mentioned earlier, this is a debilitating disease for the sufferer where pain and loss of dexterity is experienced. The picture to the right shows some of the visual symptoms experienced by people suffering from HAVS clearly highlighting as to why it often gets referred to as white finger vibration.
The purpose of the legislation is to prevent the occurrence of ill health associated with vibration exposure such as HAVS but there are other benefits a business can expect from preventing ill health in its workers. Take a look at one of our earlier blogs "Business Benefits of Occupational Hygiene Monitoring" to see what other benefits can be had.
How to Reduce Vibration Exposure - Assess, Control & Review
Before you can reduce exposure you first have to establish what tasks involve vibrating equipment and machinery. You need to consider:
Carry out a workplace survey and assess
Establish who is at risk – What equipment are they using? Vibration risks come from many sources including hand-held power tools (such as grinders) and hand-guided equipment (like pedestrian controlled floor saws). Particular consideration needs to be given to anyone who has a known problem caused by vibration or those with pre-existing medical conditions of the hands and circulation.
What level of vibration are workers exposed to? – Estimate or assess likely exposures from the tasks undertaken in your workplace. This doesn't need to be complex, it can be done using the HSE's ready reckoner using the vibration magnitude of the tool and the exposure time (length of time the tool is used for). If you have a complex set up or are unsure then seek professional help. For example, Blue Turtle Ltd Occupational Hygiene Consultants.
Where is the work taking place? – Does the workplace require people to adopt an awkward posture resulting in more force being applied to control the tool increasing the vibration dose.
Before getting into the details of control and management of vibration in the workplace, lets first consider prevention. This should play a part of the overall control strategy for vibration allowing for opportunities to eliminate exposure to be implemented where practical.
Examples of how this can be achieved are:
eliminating unnecessary vibrating tasks at the design stage of a process/project
use alternative processes that don't expose workers to vibration. For example, using block splitters instead of cut-off saws.
Control the risk by:
Equipment – Select low-vibration tools and equipment. Make sure it is also correct for the work you are doing. Equipment that is unsuitable, too small or not powerful enough may mean the task takes longer and exposes workers to unnecessary vibration.
Work practices – The equipment has to be used correctly. Ensure people know how to operate it correctly to ensure you get reduced vibration levels. Promote techniques that reduce grip force. Improve the design of workstations to limit the loads on hands, wrists and arms caused by any poor posture. Devices, such as jigs and suspension systems, can be used to take the weight and vibration of the tools away from the worker.
Rest and rotate workers – limit the time workers are exposed to vibration for long, continuous periods. Rotate workers where tools require continual or frequent use.
Gloves and warm clothing – provide protective clothing if needed to keep workers warm and dry. Maintain core body temperature as this encourages good blood circulation. Use gloves to keep hands warm but be aware that they do not provide any protection from vibration.
Once you have assessed the workplace, established and implemented the necessary controls, you now need to place these under review. This is to ensure that the controls are being adhered to and that they remain effective.
Put in place robust supervision to ensure that controls are effective and properly used.
Maintain the equipment ensuring that loose or worn parts are replaced. Blunt, damaged or inefficient tools increase vibration levels.
Regularly monitor the effectiveness of the controls through
*Appropriate health surveillance is needed if workers are exposed above the Exposure Action Value or are considered to be at risk for any other reason.
When should you get a more detailed exposure assessment?
The HSE Ready Reckoner tool only estimates exposure so you may necessary to get a more detailed exposure to help you:
Decide which control actions might be most effective and practicable in reducing vibration exposure;
Be more certain whether exposures are likely to exceed the action or limit values;
Check whether your controls are effective
At Blue Turtle Ltd, we have qualified and experienced occupational hygienists across the UK that can provide your business with the peace of mind, a more detailed exposure assessment delivers. We are able to accurately assess your workplace and take measurements to quantify the magnitude of vibration exposure allowing for a more accurate assessment of the risk.
We can help you identify controls specific to the risks and work undertaken, paving the way for your business to meet its legislative and social responsibilities.