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While the human body is built to be mobile, it was not meant to vibrate. In small doses, vibration is harmless - think of that massage chair at the mall, or your electric toothbrush. Unfortunately, mechanization has introduced significant vibration hazards to the workplace. Although injuries and illness from vibration are preventable, the effects of regular and frequent exposure to vibration can be disabling and permanent.
As long as the exposure level is low, so is the health risk. Workers start to experience symptoms as exposure increases. Some people are more sensitive to the effects of vibration than others.
People who operate mobile machines or who work near stationary machines that vibrate are at risk of exposure to vibration. Among the workers affected are foundry workers, shipyard workers and workers who sit or stand on a vibrating floor or seat. Operators of off-road vehicles may experience considerable vibration, depending on the condition of the vehicle's suspension system, shock absorbers, seats and tires.
People who are exposed to whole-body vibration may experience fatigue, insomnia, stomach problems, headaches and shakiness. The effect has been described as similar to motion sickness, or the general malaise some people feel after a long car or boat trip. Some truck drivers experience health problems, including circulatory, bowel, respiratory, muscular and back disorders, which may be partly associated with whole-body vibration.
To help reduce the risk of injury, ensure a smoother ride. Vehicles and mobile equipment should be well maintained. Suspension systems in the cab, tires and seats will help absorb vibration when well maintained. On lift trucks, sweepers and other mobile equipment, solid tires should be replaced before they reach their wear limits. Having the proper seats also reduces vibration (but always check with the manufacturer, or with a vibration specialist, before replacing a seat).
On off-road vehicles and mobile equipment, certain built-in features can help. Seats with armrests and lumbar support or air-ride suspension, suspended cabs and properly inflated tires help control whole-body vibration in vehicles.
Vehicle operators can improve conditions by learning how to:
- adjust the seat position and controls (where adjustable) and, on suspension seats, the driver weight setting;
- smoothly steer, brake, accelerate, shift gears and operate attached equipment such as excavator buckets;
- avoid rough, uneven or poor roadways; and
- match vehicle speed to ground conditions.
Workers should know whether vehicles and machines in the workplace have the right power, size and capacity to suit the work and ground conditions.
Certain powered tools cause excessive vibration exposure to the hands and arms. This vibration can cause a range of conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and "vibration-induced white finger" (VWF), "Raynaud's Syndrome" or "dead-finger".
There are numerous hand-held power tools and equipment that can cause illness from hand-arm vibration. Some common sources of vibration are grinders, sanders, drills, impact wrenches, powered mowers, hedge trimmers, needle guns, jackhammers, riveting and chipping hammers, and chain saws.
Hand-arm vibration damages blood vessels in the hands and fingers. It reduces blood flow and can harm the skin, nerves and muscles. The worker may experience a tingling sensation or numbness in the fingers, a weakened grip, and general clumsiness with the hands. 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, these symptoms will likely progress to permanent numbness in the hands, inability to pick up small objects, and more frequent "white finger" episodes. Smoking and exposure to the cold may increase the risk, since they reduce blood flow to the hands.
Workers exposed to vibration in the workplace should wear sufficient clothing to keep them warm and dry, which will encourage good blood circulation and help protect them from developing vibration white finger.
How to prevent injury
The best way to avoid injury and lasting damage from vibration is to minimize exposure to vibration. Work should be designed in such a way that workers exposed to vibration have long rest breaks or shake-free tasks between exposures. In particular, employees who are older, have back problems or are pregnant should avoid long periods of exposure.
Workers should work with non-vibrating tools whenever possible, or tools that have built-in features that reduce vibration. If using vibrating hand tools, they should limit use to only a few hours per day and days per week and take breaks at least 10 minutes per hour. It also helps to alternate vibrating and non-vibrating work, and to grip hand tools as lightly as is safe to do so, to minimize the vibration passing from the tool to the body.
Workplaces should maintain exposures as low as possible. For information on how much vibration is too much, employers can refer to exposure limits or "threshold limit values" (TLV), as recommended by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists or as outlined in other standards and regulations. (See the CCOHS link below for this information). In many work applications manual tasks can be mechanized, removing workers from harmful exposures to vibration. The UK Health and Safety Executive lists several examples.
Employers should provide training and education to employees to teach them about the health risks of vibration, how to identify early signs and symptoms of injury, select and use appropriate tools, as well as find alternative safe work practices to help keep them healthy and safe.
At the first sign of vibration disease, workers should consult a doctor and talk to their supervisor and/or health and safety committee to find ways to reduce or eliminate their exposure to vibration.
Measurement, Control and Standard of Vibration, CCOHS
Vibration at Work, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), UK
Workplace exposure to vibration in Europe, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
Recommended vibration-reducing work practices, listed by industry, HSE
All Shook Up - Understanding Vibration PDF, Health & Safety Bulletin, WorkSafe Alberta
Hazard alerts from BC and Nova Scotia involving hits to workers - one from a falling drilling rig hammer and the other from a moving vehicle - emphasize the importance of specific safe work practices to keep workers safe.
Free falling hammer
In BC two workers stood under a raised casing hammer of a drilling rig as they tied some equipment out of the way. The rig had been redesigned without the safeguards for its free fall controls. When the driller walked out from underneath the raised hammer, he bumped against the free fall lever, sending the 900-kilogram (2,000-pound) hammer crashing 2.5 metres (approximately 8 feet) to the holding table below.
The driller's helper who still remained under the hammer was struck by the free falling hammer and suffered a severe leg injury. There were no restraining devices on the casing hammer to prevent it from falling after the control lever was inadvertently activated.
WorkSafeBC suggested the following work practices:
- Provide an effective means of restraint to secure any object from falling and endangering a worker.
- Provide specific safe work and lockout procedures for working on or operating drilling rigs. Never work under a raised casing hammer unless lockout procedures allow this to be done safely.
- Ensure that only a qualified person modifies any equipment and its controls.
- Provide workers with the information, training, and supervision necessary to ensure their safety when using equipment.
Blindsided by mobile equipment
In Nova Scotia a shuttle buggy was among the mobile equipment being used at a paving worksite. At the end of the day the shuttle buggy was being moved off the road, without a signaler. The signaler responsible for monitoring the loading of the asphalt and communicating with the buggy operator and truckers, had left. A worker walking to the shoulder of the road had his back turned to the buggy while focusing on organizing papers. As the operator moved the buggy off the road, he was unaware that the worker was still standing on the roadway. The worker was struck by the moving equipment and injured. When working with and around mobile equipment, specific preventive measures must be taken to make sure operators of mobile equipment and workers know where one another are, and to overcome operator blind spots.
Nova Scotia offered the following preventive measures:
- Ensure there is a signaler when the operator:
- does not have a clear view of the load or the path he has to take
- cannot see clearly around the equipment and someone may be exposed to a hazard
- cannot see if the equipment is close to electrical lines, or if moving the equipment creates a hazard
- Make sure a signaler stays with the machine until it is parked and shut off
- Workers should stay alert and know where they are in relation to moving equipment
- Check machines for blind spots and eliminate the hazard
- Consider installing a camera and monitor so the operator has a clear view of any blind spots
Read the full alert from WorkSafeBC
Read the full alert from Nova Scotia, Labour and Workforce Development, Occupational Health and Safety
New Research Centre to Study Occupational Cancer
Canada's first occupational cancer research centre is the newest battleground in the fight to eliminate work related cancers. Opened in Toronto, Ontario earlier this month, the centre is dedicated solely to the research of identifying, preventing and ultimately eliminating work related cancers.
While a number of substances (e.g. radon, benzene, coal tar and asbestos) and processes in the workplace are known to cause cancer, some substances that are suspected of being carcinogenic have never been properly evaluated. Some common types of occupational cancer are lung cancer, bladder cancer and mesothelioma (which is almost always caused by asbestos exposure). Research shows that the amount of cancer related to occupational exposure varies with the type of cancer. It is not known for certain to what substances workers are exposed, the level of concentration, or what kind of carcinogens are found in which kind of workplaces. There are many questions and few answers - for now.
The Occupational Cancer Research Centre will work to increase the knowledge base about workplace cancer and bring the results of the research to the workplace, educating and implementing initiatives to improve the health of workers.
The centre is the result of health and workplace safety organizations, businesses, and labour groups joining forces with a common goal of reducing workplace cancer. Funded by Cancer Care Ontario, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and the Ontario Division of the Canadian Cancer Society, and developed with the United Steelworkers, the centre is operating out of Cancer Care Ontario's office in Toronto.
Dr. Aaron Blair, Interim Director of the centre and renowned expert in occupational and environmental epidemiology said, "The establishment of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre is a major step in identifying carcinogens in the workplace and initiating preventive actions."
Teleworking, telecommuting, working offsite, working from home - whatever label you use, all of these terms refer to people performing their work duties outside of the traditional office environment. Teleworkers use technology such as the telephone, e-mail, the Internet and/or private networks to complete their job tasks and stay in contact with their workplace.
CCOHS' latest publication, Telework and Home Office Health and Safety Guide is written for home-based office workers and professionals, both self-employed and employees. The guide has two main focuses - managing the work and setting up a good, safe home office.
The guide can be used to set up an effective home office as it covers all aspects of ergonomics, safety, work organization and personal security that may be unique to a home environment.
Packed with safety tips, charts, checklists, and illustrations for teleworkers and home-based office workers, the guide provides practical information to help:
- integrate health and safety into everyday practices through telework agreements
- ensure due diligence and compliance with health and safety legislation
- manage a telework position so it works best for both the employee and employer
- understand the importance of ergonomics (workstation, desk, chair, etc.), work organization, and other safety needs
Managers and supervisors, as well as health and safety and human resources professionals may find the guide to be a useful reference in developing management policies and practices.
Each publication produced by CCOHS is reviewed by representatives from government, employers, and labour for technical accuracy and readability, and produced in English and French.
Pricing and ordering information is available on the CCOHS website.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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