What are the risks of vibration at work?

Last updated: 03 Mar 2020

Continuous exposure to vibration can cause long-term, painful damage to your hands and fingers, while over time shocks and jolts from driving certain types of vehicles can cause severe back pain.

Vibration can be split into two broad categories:

  • hand-arm vibration (HAV), which comes from the use of hand-held power tools; and
  • whole-body vibration (WBV), which is transmitted through the seat or floor of mobile machines and vehicles being driven over rough ground.

Research commissioned by Health and Safety Executive suggests over one million people are exposed to high levels of vibration in the workplace.

Symptoms and conditions

HAV can damage nerves, blood vessels and joints of the hand, wrist and arm – a debilitating group of conditions broadly known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). When the condition principally affects circulation to the fingers, it is often called vibration white finger. The main symptoms associated with HAVS are:

  • tingling and numbness in the fingers
  • lack of dexterity and sensation in the fingers
  • loss of strength in the hands
  • fingertips turn white become painful in cold and wet conditions

If these symptoms are caught early enough, they can disappear if appropriate action is taken. However, prolonged exposure once symptoms have set in can make the condition gradually worse, which is usually permanent.

Prolonged exposure to hand-arm vibration can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a painful condition where the nerve in the wrist becomes compressed. It causes tingling, numbness and pain in your hand and fingers.

The main health problem associated with whole-body vibration is back pain.

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