Vibration

Last reviewed on 28/11/2012 13:22

This page gives advice on assessing and controlling risks to employees from Hand-Arm Vibration and Whole-Body Vibration in the workplace.

You will also find details of legal duties and obligations, and links to further information.

Quick links:

Good practices:

What are Hand-Arm and Whole-Body Vibration?

Hand-Arm Vibration (HAV) is a condition caused by regular exposure to vibrating and percussive tools, or working with material in contact with grinding or cutting operations.

Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) refers to damage to muscles, joints, circulation and nerves in the hand and arm caused by HAV.

Whole-Body Vibration (WBV) is experienced when sitting, standing or lying on a vibrating surface. For example, a forklift truck operator or tractor driver may be exposed to vibration through the seat resulting in WBV.

Noise and vibration are usually connected - if there is an issue with vibration in the workplace it’s likely that noise also poses a risk.

 

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Vibration White Finger

The term Vibration White Finger (VWF) is used to describe damage to circulation, usually to the fingers, arising from long-term, regular contact with vibrating tools.

Symptoms can include a tingling sensation and numbness, or whiteness of parts of the fingers.

With continued exposure to vibration, these symptoms may become more severe, particularly in cold weather.

During an attack, the fingers lose their normal sense of touch. After the attack, which may last for up to half an hour, the affected finger(s) may become painful, red and throbbing when the circulation returns.

Other conditions linked to exposure to vibration can cause permanent loss of feeling, numbness and tingling in the hand.

 

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Risks to health from vibration

Prolonged exposure can lead to considerable pain and time off work, and may result in permanent disability. The most well-known health effect is VWF, but other effects include damage to sensory nerves, muscles and joints in the hands and arms.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that each year, approximately 3,000 new claims for Industrial Injury Disability Benefit are made in relation to [acronym VWF]vibration white finger[end acronym] and vibration-related carpal tunnel syndrome.

In addition, the HSE maintains that [acronym HAV]Hand-Arm Vibration[end acronym] is a major cause of occupational ill health and it is estimated around five million workers are exposed to HAV in the workplace. Two million of these workers are exposed to levels of vibration where there are clear risks of developing disease.

Drivers who are exposed to intense long-term vibration are at risk of developing WBV that can cause chronic back pain.

The risk of permanent damage from vibration depends on a number of factors including:

  • how high the level of vibration is
  • how long the equipment is used for – short exposures and occasional spells can be equally as damaging depending on other factors
  • how tightly the equipment is gripped
  • how awkward the equipment is to use
  • how cold and wet it is when use the equipment is used.

Exposure to WBV is not the only cause of back pain in drivers and other workers.

For more information, see our page on Back Pain/RSI.

 

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Workers at particular risk from vibration injuries

Those working in construction, engineering, agriculture and mining are recognised as being at risk.

HAV can affect workers who use power tools and cutting equipment such as road breakers, power drills, chainsaws, strimmers, polishers or grinders. The problem can be made worse by cold or wet conditions.

WBV can affect workers driving or operating heavy plant and vehicles such as construction plant drivers, agricultural machinery drivers and those working in quarry vehicles.

Those using vehicles off-road, where there is an increased likelihood of jolts and jarring are much more at risk than those driving on the road.

In vehicles, vibrations are transmitted via the seat to the buttocks, from the floor to the feet and from the headrest to the head.

Vibration through the feet can also be a problem for employees standing on the platforms of stationary plant such as rock crushers.

 

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Legal duties and obligations around vibration

As well as the moral duty of employers to protect employees and members of the public, General Health and Safety Legislation covers all employers and workplaces.

This includes protecting employees and the public from risks associated with vibration.

More specifically, the following regulations also apply:

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005

These regulations came into effect in 2005. They set Exposure Action Values and Exposure Limit Values for HAV and WBV. Manufacturers of plant and machinery must provide data that proves their products do not exceed maximum levels.

Exposure Action Values and Exposure Limit Values

Exposure Action Values (EAVs) indicate the level of vibration at which action must be taken to reduce exposure. Exposure Limit Values (ELVs) set the maximum level of vibration that should not be exceeded in any single day.

Both types of value are calculated as the average exposure experienced over an eight-hour period.

For Hand-Arm Vibration:

  • the Exposure Action Value is 2.5m/s² A(8)
  • the Exposure Limit Value is 5.0m/s² A(8).

For Whole-Body Vibration:

  • the Exposure Action Value is 0.5m/s² A(8)
  • the Exposure Limit Value is 1.15m/s² A(8).

The regulations allow a transitional period for the ELV until July 2010 but this only applies to work equipment already in use before July 2007.

The Exposure Limit Value may be exceeded during the transitional period provided that:

  • all of the other requirements of the regulations are complied with
  • all reasonably practicable actions to reduce exposure have been taken.

Required actions

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations require employers to:

  • assess the vibration risk to employees
  • decide if they are likely to be exposed above the daily [acronym EAV]Exposure Action Value[end acronym]
  • decide if they are likely to be exposed above the daily [acronym ELV]Exposure Limit Value[end acronym].

If employees are likely to be exposed above the EAV:

  • introduce a programme of controls to eliminate risk, or reduce exposure to as low a level as is reasonably practicable
  • provide Health Surveillance (regular health checks) to those employees who continue to be regularly exposed above the action value or otherwise continue to be at risk.

If employees are likely to be exposed above the ELV:

  • take immediate action to reduce their exposure below the limit value
  • provide information, instruction and training on health risks and the actions taken to control those risks.

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR)

Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (Vibration White Finger, or joint and limb pain or stiffness caused by vibration) and carpal tunnel syndrome associated with vibration are reportable injuries under these regulations.

Before reporting, employers should check the employee is doing a job involving an activity listed in Schedule 3 of RIDDOR.

To view the full text of the above legislation online, please follow the links under Legislation.

 

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Assessing risks from vibration

Employers must assess the risk faced by employees who use vibrating tools and equipment and/or heavy plant and vehicles.

Employers should:

  • consult trade union safety representatives or employee representatives on their proposals to control risk and to provide Health Surveillance
  • keep a record of your Risk Assessment and control measures
  • keep health records for employees under Health Surveillance
  • review and update your Risk Assessment regularly.

→ Read more on Risk Assessment

Gathering data on vibration levels

Manufacturers must now provide details on how much vibration a tool or piece of machinery produces. This data is based on laboratory tests and is useful when seeking tools that produce lower levels of vibration.

However, there can be many variables during actual use of the tool and so laboratory data cannot be relied upon as a true indicator of likely exposure. Vibration levels can be much higher, for instance, when the tool is not being used for its intended purpose.

Employers may need to seek professional assistance in assessing and measuring actual exposure.

Various groups and vibration consultants maintain databases of vibration characteristics for power tools and equipment and can provide information (there may be a cost involved).

 

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Good practices in controlling vibration risks

Job design and planning

Where possible, use work methods that avoid exposure to vibration. Where exposure cannot be avoided, other measures should be considered to limit exposure.

Begin by compiling an inventory of all the tools, equipment and processes required where vibration could be a risk.

At the design stage of a job, consider whether each aspect of the work needs to be carried out at all or can be done without the use of vibrating equipment.

For example:

  • using special formwork or treating poured concrete can avoid the need for scabbling
  • pre-forming openings in concrete can avoid the need for core-cutting
  • using a guillotine to cut metal accurately can remove the need for trimming with a grinder.

Reducing the amount of time equipment is used is a simple way of limiting exposure to individuals.

For example, the Exposure Limit Value for Hand-Arm Vibration is 5 ms A(8). This means a tool with this vibration value should be used for no more than eight hours in a single day.

Thus, a hand tool with a vibration level of 10 ms² A(8) - twice the Exposure Limit Value - should only be used for a maximum of four hours in any single day (i.e. half the time).

 

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Reducing Hand-Arm vibration

Where risks cannot be eliminated, control methods include:

  • selecting lower vibration tools and equipment
  • choosing the right tool for the job
  • altering processes and procedures to minimise exposure to vibration
  • implementing task rotation and time limits on activities with high exposure levels
  • providing training in new operator skills for tools with vibration reduction features
  • making operators aware of activities with the tools that produce unusually high vibration emissions
  • providing information on methods of using the tool to be adopted or avoided to reduce vibration levels
  • making sure operators avoid gripping the tool too tightly
  • providing information and training in tool maintenance (badly maintained tools can produce more vibration).

Anti-vibration gloves are not recommended, as they generally provide little or no protection from vibration. However, gloves may help with the prevention of vibration injury by keeping the hands warm and assisting blood circulation.

 

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Reducing Whole-Body vibration

Where Whole-Body Vibration is an issue in vehicles:

  • check driving seats to ensure that they are well sprung and give adequate support
  • fit suspension seats to use vehicles with suspended driver’s cabs
  • choose a suitable vehicle or machine for the ground conditions and activity
  • make sure vehicles are well maintained, including suspension systems
  • provide information and advice on safe posture, sitting position and use of vehicles and machinery
  • encourage the early reporting of back pain and discomfort
  • fix damping material to floor panels and other vibrating surfaces to reduce engine vibration transferred to the operator (this will not reduce the main risk – vibration due to the ground conditions).

For operators who have to stand while operating vibrating machinery:

  • wherever possible, operate the machine remotely from a vibration-free area
  • mount fixed machinery on anti-vibration mounts
  • use rubber mats and provide shoes with thick rubber soles
  • encourage the early reporting of back pain and discomfort.

Health Surveillance and vibration

As well as encouraging early reporting of vibration-related symptoms, employers should assess the need for health surveillance of anyone exposed to harmful levels of vibration. Vibration levels are expressed as m/s (metres per second squared), which shows the magnitude of the vibration.

A health surveillance programme should be considered where there are exposures above the HSE recommended levels shown below as average vibration values.

Length of working day (hrs)    16   8   4    2   1   ½ Average Exposure Level (A8)   2  2. 8  4  5.6  8  11.2

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced useful calculators to assist with risk assessment and health surveillance:

→ Find out more about HSE's Whole-Body Vibration Calculator (external site)

→ Find out more about HSE's Hand-Arm Vibration Calculator (external site)

For more information, visit our page on Health Surveillance

 

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Further information on vibration in the workplace

External resources

Vibration at Work This mini-site from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carries extensive information on HAV and WBV controls and good working practices for employers and employees, as well as detailed advice on legal requirements.

Hand-Arm Vibration Exposure calculator (external link) A downloadable tool and guide from the HSE to help you calculate Hand-Arm vibration exposure levels.

Whole-Body Vibration Calculator (external link) A downloadable tool and guide from the HSE to help you calculate Whole-Body vibration exposure levels.

Free resources from Healthy Working Lives Links below are to publications pages giving options to download these resources:

Free guidance from the Health and Safety Executive Note - all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to download or order these resources:

Priced guidance from the Health and Safety Executive

Note - all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to order these resources:

Vibration Solutions HSG170 (external site): A book of 51 real life case studies on how vibration problems were tackled in a range of industries.

Legislation

→ View The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 (external site)

→ View The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) (external site)

 

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