Vibrations are mechanical oscillations which pose a hazard to human health when acting continuously on the hand-arm system (hand-arm vibrations) or on the entire body (whole-body vibrations). Vibrations may cause blood circulation problems, bone or joint disorders, neurological or muscular conditions, back pain, or damage to the spinal column.
Health effects of high vibration levels
The effect of vibrations is a function of their frequency and intensity. Vibrations in the low-frequency spectrum lead to disorders of the muscular and skeletal system
(damage to joints). The high-frequency portion damages the peripheral blood vessels and nervous system (disturbed blood circulation in the fi ngers and hands, or even numbness and loss of grip). Even low vibration levels may cause discomfort and reduced productivity.
Regulations and exposure action values
In July 2002, the European Parliament released EC Directive 2002/44/EC which addresses the minimum health and safety requirements regarding worker exposure to
risks arising from physical agents (vibration). The directive stipulates both an exposure action value and an exposure limit value. Under this directive, employers are required, inter alia, to determine the level of exposure to vibrations at the workplace. A workplace is deemed to pose a hazard if it involves persistent vibration exposure in the form of hand-arm vibrations or wholebody vibrations.
The duration and intensity of the vibration exposure must initially be determined. A so-called daily exposure value, standardized to an 8-hour reference period, must then be established. The new directives need to be observed wherever work is carried out with the aid of vibrating tools or equipment. Employers are expected to know and monitor the vibration exposure of their personnel, and to take remedial action where necessary.
If the exposure action value of 2.5 m/s² is exceeded for hand-arm vibrations, the employer is required to describe, in an action plan, by which means and in which period of time such worker exposure is to be reduced. When the exposure limit value of 5.0 m/s² is reached for hand-arm vibrations, the worker in question must no longer be assigned to any activities involving vibration exposure. The same applies to whole-body vibrations.
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