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Vibration - Occupational - Whole Body Vibration

Recently the issue of whole-body vibration has come to the fore. Whole-body vibration has widespread effects which are not particularly clear, because as the name suggests, the whole body is affected rather then just the ear as in noise exposure. The effects are manifested throughout the body and may be mistaken for a number of other ailments.

The most common problem is lower back pain, probably caused by degeneration of the spinal discs. These discs are already affected by long periods of sitting, and vibration exposure only makes matters worse by causing nutrients needed for growth and repair to diffuse out of the discs; this leads to increased wear and reduced repair of the discs. The spine can also be damaged by the vibration energy that leads to an accumulation of small (micro) fractures at the end plates and associated pain.

Muscle fatigue also occurs as the machine operator tries to react to the vibration and maintain balance and protect the spinal column. Other health effects that have been associated with whole-body vibration, especially the driving environment are piles (haemorrhoids), high blood pressure, kidney disorders and impotence!!

The following precautions help to reduce whole-body vibration exposure:

  1. Limit the time spent by workers on a vibrating surface.
  2. Mechanically isolate the vibrating source or surface to reduce exposure.
  3. Ensure that equipment is well maintained to avoid excessive vibration.
  4. Install vibration damping seats.

The control of vibration is a complex engineering problem and is best left to qualified professionals using BS 6841 and ISO 2631-1 to measure and assess the vibration. Many factors specific to the individual work station govern the choice of the vibration isolation material and the machine mounting methods [consult the directory].

Further reading consult on this subject can be found elsewhere such as here and here.  There is also an extensive on-line directory of measurements available elsewhere.

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