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How dangerous is vibration?

Q:

How dangerous is vibration?

A:

Vibration dangers are one of the most overlooked workplace hazards that exist. One of the many reasons for this is vibration injuries cannot be attributed to a single dramatic event. Rather, these injuries are the result of often subtle and long-term exposure to vibrations.

Hand and Arm Injuries

A large percentage of workplace vibration injuries are focused on the hands and arms (learn more about the way these injuries develop in What is Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)?). For example, prolonged exposure to vibrations has been shown to dramatically increase the risk of a worker developing carpal tunnel syndrome (of varying degrees of severity). Vibrations can also cause problems with hand strength and dexterity. In some rare cases, people have even needed to have their fingertips amputated in response to blood flow and nerve problems resulting from vibrations. These cases even have a name – Vibration White Finger Disease, which visually resembles Raynaud’s Syndrome.

Whole Body Injuries

Although the hands are disproportionately impacted by vibration, it should be noted that it is not just a worker’s hands that are at risk. Vibration exposure can also cause whole body injuries (read about other potential causes of injury in Risk Factors for Developing Musculoskeletal Disorders). One of the most common types of these injuries is chronic lower back pain. These lower back injuries frequently result in lowered worker productivity and a significant number of lost labor days — negatively impacting both the employee and employer.

Technological Advancements

As technology has advanced, researchers and safety experts have gotten significantly better at measuring vibration levels and determining when they exceed safe levels. In addition to monitoring improvements, there has also been progress in mitigating workplace vibrations. For example, newer tools may cause less vibration than older models. Also, new safety equipment like anti-vibration gloves are designed to keep workers as safe as possible. These reasonably priced and comfortable to use gloves offer advanced vibration control technology, designed to protect some of the most vulnerable body parts (such as the wrists and the palms).

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Written by Andy Olson
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Andy Olson is responsible for the protection product pillar and serves as the company's ISEA representative on the hi-vis apparel, hand protection, and eye protection standard committees. He has authored numerous articles that have been published in safety trades on topics ranging from hand protection and worker visibility, to protection for worker-generated head injuries and eyewear compliance. He also trains distributors and end users nationally on the ANSI/ISEA 107 hi-visibility standard and other relevant safety topics.

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