The dangers of vibrating tools and machinery

ProChoice Safety Gear

Wednesday, 10 February, 2016

The dangers of vibrating tools and machinery

Vibration from using power tools and other vibrating machinery can lead to the dangerous condition of hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) which, if left untreated, can potentially require the amputation of the fingers or hand.

A Safe Work Australia fact sheet on HAVS states that the condition is “commonly experienced by workers who regularly use tools such as jackhammers, chainsaws, grinders, drills, riveters and impact wrenches”. The UK Government Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states workers who are particularly at risk are those who use hammer action tools for more than 15 minutes each day.

HAVS is a grouping of specific disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, ‘tennis elbow’ and painful ‘vibration white finger’ — when the fingers go white, usually triggered by years of exposure to vibration and prompted by cold conditions. Symptoms may include tingling and numbness in the fingers, loss of strength or pain in the hands or arms.

Safe Work Australia states that these symptoms occur because exposure to vibration can cause “disrupted circulation in the hand and forearm and/or damage to nerves and tendons, muscles, bones and joints of the hand and arm”.

The UK HSE states that the damage caused by excessive exposure to vibration is irreversible, but that it is preventable with simple and cost-effective measures.

Further, many modern tools have a vibration magnitude rating (m/s2) that enables the determination of the level of vibration that users are subjected to during use. Armed with this information, the UK HSE hand arm vibration calculator and ready reckoner enables assessment of safe use. However, caution is needed as this rating may change as the tool and accessories age.

Eliminating or reducing exposure to vibration is described by the HSE as the most efficient and effective way of controlling exposure, while “health surveillance is vital to detect and respond to early signs of damage”. They also describe inaction as potentially resulting in significant costs to both employers and employees.

The 2012 SWA HAVS fact sheet states that while there are no mandatory exposure levels in Australia, workers and their employers can be led by European mandatory requirements recommending that daily vibration exposure should remain below 2.5 m/s2 averaged over an eight-hour day and never more than 5 m/s2 over an eight-hour day.

2003 research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, assessed, over four years, a range of anti-vibration gloves adhering to ISO 10819 and found they reduced the user’s exposure to vibration.

Furthermore, 2007 research published in the Journal of Occupational Health also found evidence that an anti-vibration safety glove adhering to ISO 10819 offered protection from vibration, particularly at high frequencies.

Therefore, it makes sense that anti-vibration gloves are used along with other measures to minimise exposure to vibration.

Choosing a glove specifically designed to minimise vibration is essential. For example, the ProSense ONE Plus – Anti Vibration Glove offers improved grip and reduced vibration transmission with an anti-vibration foam padded palm.

Methods of reducing exposure to vibration:

  • Use suitable low-vibration tools specific to an application.
  • Ensure proper tool maintenance and check this before use.
  • Ensure cutting tools are kept sharp.
  • Reduce continuous time spent on tools emitting vibration by doing other jobs in between.
  • Avoid gripping tools that emit vibration more than necessary.
  • Encourage good blood circulation by keeping warm and dry, stopping smoking and massaging and exercising fingers during breaks.

Top Image credit: ©Sophie James/Dollar Photo Club

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