About 1.5 million US workers use vibrating tools on the job and millions more are exposed to jarring while operating trucks or other heavy machinery. Whole-body vibration is vibration transmitted through the feet or buttocks of workers who sit on hard-riding machinery, such as forklifts or mining trucks. It may cause fatigue, insomnia, headaches, shakiness, bowel and kidney problems, muscle and back disorders and other ailments.
Think how driving a few miles on a washboard road makes you tense and how good it feels to roll onto smooth pavement again. Many workers don’t have that luxury. Whole-body vibration is a major cause of back pain in drivers and machinery operators. A more localized form of vibration affecting workers is known as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome. It is experienced by those operating power tools, such as chipping hammers, grinders or chain saws, for many hours on the job.
Symptoms of this condition include:
Whitening of one or more fingers when exposed to cold.
Tingling sensation in fingers.
Reduced sensation in fingertips while lightly touching an object.
Pain and cold sensitivity between “white finger” attacks.
Losing grip strength.
In extreme cases, hand tissue can die or people can lose the use of their hands. If you notice any symptoms, see your doctor immediately. The syndrome is reversible if vibration exposure is reduced or stopped.
Here are some suggestions for reducing the risks of injuries and disorders caused by vibration exposure:
If you regularly drive trucks or other heavy equipment on rough surfaces, slow down. If the ride is intolerably rough, have the vehicle’s suspension checked for worn parts. Also check the seat’s condition and support
If you work with vibrating tools in cold weather, dress appropriately and wear gloves to keep your hands warm.
Operate the tool on the slowest speed that can be used to effectively do the job.
Never use any more hand/arm pressure to hold the tool than is required to maintain safe operation. Let the tool do the work.
Keep tools sharp and properly maintained and try to use tools that have anti-vibration mechanisms engineered in.
Take scheduled rest breaks and attempt to alternate your duties so you aren’t operating a vibrating tool throughout your shift.
Avoid bending your wrists into awkward positions while operating equipment.
Use devices other than your hands to hold the piece being worked on. Rest tools on a work piece whenever possible.
Wear vibration-absorbing gloves.
It’s important to recognize the early symptoms of vibration exposure. If nothing is done about it and it worsens, it may be too late to treat it.