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Chapter 26 VIBRATION

In July of this year, seven former miners had their award of damage upheld by the Court of Appeal after suffering from work-related finger injuries from using drills underground. There are many other former miners are now claiming and the total cost to the British Coal Corporation may be in excess of £500m.

This same hazard, vibration, affects almost all in the Sports Turf Industry as we all face the hazard of vibrating handtools – mowers, strimmers, chainsaws etc.


Studies have shown that ‘vibration syndrome’ is underreported by workers and employers. Workers tend to underreport the syndrome because symptoms are intermittent and occur early in the morning or when the hands are cold or wet.

The signs and symptoms include numbness, pain, and blanching (turning pale and ashen). Of particular concern is evidence of advanced stages of vibration syndrome after exposures as short as one year.

Do you recognise any of these symptoms?

Table 1. Stages of Vibration Syndrome

Stage Condition of Fingers Work and Social Interference
00 No tingling, numbness, or blanching of fingers No complaints
OT Intermittent tingling No interference with activities
ON Intermittent numbness  No interference with activities
TN Intermittent tingling and numbness No interference with activities
01 Blanching of a fingertip with or without tingling and/or numbness No interference with activities
02 Blanching of one or more fingers beyond tips, usually during winter Possible interference with non-work activities; no interference at work
03 Extensive blanching of fingers; during summer and winter Definite interference at work, at home, and with social activities; restriction of hobbies
04 Extensive blanching of most fingers; during summer and winter Occupation usually changed because of severity of signs and symptoms

The syndrome is progressive and is due to the cumulative effect of vibration from hand tools, weather conditions and hours worked. The older the worker, the more likely they are to be at risk.

This brings us to the way forward - Risk Assessment

Substitution

Can the work be done in any other way. The obvious way is use of ride-on equipment which are less hazardous from vibration.

Elimination

If an individual shows any of the above symptoms, he should not be allowed to use the problem equipment. Employers should carry out regular checks on worker to ensure this happens. Workers should see a doctor immediately they experience prolonged symptoms of tingling, numbness, or signs of blanched or blue fingers

Engineering controls

This is probably our best bet for the future. The improvement of design and the insistence of proper and regular maintenance would go a long way to curing the problem. The purchase of cheap equipment, designed for use only for short periods but used for long periods, may be the source of much of the problem. Employers must make sure they purchase equipment which minimises vibration.

Administrative controls

Work schedules with a 10-minute break after each hour of continuous exposure may help reduce the severity of the problem.

 

SAFE WORKING PRACTICE

 

PPE to protect for the long periods of use is not an ideal solution. There are various types of gloves which can be worn to absorb vibration and help maintain body warmth but as usual, will the employer give these out, will they be maintained and will they be replaced as they become worn?

 

Is the problem measurable? In recent years data has become available to allow us to identify and characterise the problem. A measurement is made of the ‘vibration dose’ averaged over an eight hour period. This allows us to then compare different items of equipment and assess their use.

The HSE, in their Guidance Booklet (Hand-Arm Vibration 1994), produced figures which suggest that a good strimmer is likely only to be safe to use for a maximum of 4 hours per day, and a poor strimmer for as little as 16 minutes per day!

So there is the problem - have you taken sensible precautions in your organisation to avoid vibration syndrome?


Reference: HSE Free Leaflets on Vibration at Work

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