Vibration and Noise: Two Often Overlooked Risks

  Risk, Symptoms, and Effects Hand-arm vibration (HAVS) happens with the regular use and operation of hand-held power tools and machines, such as concrete breakers, sanders, grinders, disc cutters, hammer drills, chainsaws, hedge trimmers,...

Written by Laura Fitzgerald

 

Risk, Symptoms, and Effects

Hand-arm vibration (HAVS) happens with the regular use and operation of hand-held power tools and machines, such as concrete breakers, sanders, grinders, disc cutters, hammer drills, chainsaws, hedge trimmers, and powered mowers. Exposure risks damage to nerves, blood vessels, joints of the hand and wrist and arm. While exposure to HAVS is preventable and controllable, the damage, if it occurs, is permanent.

Whole-body vibration (WBV) is transmitted through the seat or feet of employees driving mobile machines or work vehicles (like tractors, forklifts, or trucks) over rough and uneven surfaces continuously — large shocks and jolts, as well as other factors like posture and heavy lifting, can cause health risks, including back-pain.

Exposure to high noise levels can potentially be harmful, and in particular, can permanently damage hearing and cause irreversible hearing loss. According to the UK’s HSE, 17,000 people in the UK suffer from deafness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears - which can seriously disturb sleep), or other ear conditions directly because of excessive noise at work. Permanent hearing damage can arise in work that involves sudden, extremely loud, or explosive noises. For example, from guns or cartridge-operated machines. Hearing loss is gradual and is caused by prolonged exposure to noise. Even something as small as experiencing temporary deafness after leaving a noisy place should not be ignored.

Preventative Measures

Vibration and Noise in the workplace are risks that can be effectively managed and controlled, and employers must consider whether there are alternate methods or machines available to reduce or eliminate exposure to vibrations and/or noise.

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 was introduced to protect workers from the risk to health from vibration, stating the value (“exposure limit value”) of HAVS exposure that should not be exceeded (5.0 m/s2 A(8)), as well as stating a value (“exposure action value”) at which employers should introduce technical and organisational measures to reduce exposure(2.5 m/s2 A(8).)

Similarly, the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 was introduced to insist employers control the risk involved in their employees working with noise, and to ensure they do not suffer damage to their hearing.

If it is not possible to remove loud noise altogether, make efforts to manage and reduce it by measuring noise and its decibel (dB) levels. A cost-effective priority for the employer could be to introducing a positive purchasing and hire policy. By buying less-noisy equipment and machinery, this can save the employer the cost of introducing noise-reduction measures later. In addition, the workplace can be redesigned to modify and alter the path by which noise travels and affects people exposed, sources of noise could be positioned far from workers, and barriers and screens could be put in place to block or filter the direct path of sound. Absorptive materials (such as open-cell foam or mineral wood) within the building can reduce reflected sound, and silencers can be fitted to air exhausts.


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