Power Tool Vibration Exposure Creates Health Concerns
When it comes to power tools, dust and noise are the obvious health hazards. But, employers shouldn’t overlook the impact of vibrations as well.
Power tools, as well as vehicles and heavy equipment, pass harmful, unhealthy vibrations into the body.
Millions of workers spanning across industries including construction, maintenance, automotive, and agriculture are at risk of vibration exposure.
There are two preventable types of exposure: Hand-arm vibration and whole-body vibration. Here’s a breakdown of each.
NIOSH describes hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) as a “collective term for vibration-induced neurological, vascular and musculoskeletal disorders in the hand-arm system.”
When vibration transfers from a power tool into the muscles of the hand, workers suffer from tingling, numbness, pain, discoloration, as well as blood vessel and nerve damage.
Typically, HAVS symptoms occur when the tips of one or more fingers begins to turn white.
It then spreads to other fingers, even on the opposite hand – a condition is known as Raynaud’s syndrome, an irreversible condition where blood vessels in the fingers begin to collapse.
This may lead to permanent disability.
How to Prevent HAVS
Once a worker exhibits white-finger symptoms, the condition is incurable.
Prevention starts with prevention and awareness. And, in some cases, it’s necessary to eliminate the need for power tools on the job site.
OSHA offers these tips for preventing HAVS:
- Use add-on products or techniques to reduce vibration from equipment;
- properly maintain tools and machines;
- allow employees time to alternate between vibrating and non-vibrating tools;
- give workers 10-to-15-minute breaks each hour;
- educate workers on best practices for vibration hazards;
- advise workers to keep hands warm and dry, and to grip tools lightly.
You’ve likely experienced whole body vibration exposure at some point in your life.
Perhaps you ran over a pothole, drove on a bumpy road, or even sailed through rough water, which led to heavy vibration.
Repeated exposure to those conditions cause pain suffrage and musculoskeletal disorders in many workers.
When a machine, such as a tractor or a truck, passes over rough terrain, the vibrations transfer through the seat to the operator’s lower back and pelvis.
It takes years of persistent exposure for the tissue damage to become apparent.
However, these issues are often ascribed to other on-the-job duties such as heavy lifting.
Innovative suspension systems could be the key to reducing vibration exposure. These could include components that can reduce effects such as swaying and side tipping.
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