Workers in Australian workplaces are exposed to Vibration in many job roles. The two main types of Vibration are Hand Arm vibration, and Whole Body Vibration; HAV being vibration that travels through the hand and arm into the body, and WBV being vibration that starts at the feet or glutes and then travels into the body. Industries like Mining, Construction, Farming, Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries, Trades, and Utilities are hi-risk industries for vibration exposure through hand tools, power tools, machinery and heavy vehicles.
The common disease related to excessive use of vibrating machinery is white finger. An industrial related injury caused by continuous use of vibrating machinery or tools which affects the blood vessels, nerves, muscles and joints of the hand, wrist and arm is called Vibration White Finger (VWF), also known as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).
The EU Vibration Directive 2002 was key in promoting awareness about vibration hazards in the workplace. Vibration reduction initiatives are supported by legislation in the EU, and maximum vibration exposure is limited at a value of 5 m/s2 for HAV, with employers required to take actions to minimize risk and introduce health monitoring at 2.5m/s2.
Some Australian Standards such as AS 2763-1988 and AS2670 – 2001 offer information about Hand Arm, as well as Whole Body Vibration and measures of evaluation of exposure, however all major research works and commissioned reports undertaken till date for the region, recommend investigations into a benefit analysis of the adoption of minimum legislative requirements for vibration exposure.
According to one of the few studies commissioned in Australia, the 2008 National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance (NHEWS) survey around 24% of Australian workers were exposed to vibration in the workplace, of which 43% of exposure was to HAV, 38% to WBV, and 17% to both. A key problem identified was the small percentage of workers who were given any training at all and the large number of smaller workplaces that had no control measures in place for Vibration reduction. Some examples of vibration level exposures in Australian mining workplaces as measured by Gary Foster in ‘Assessment of Vibration Exposure in the Mining Industry’ even exceed limits as per EU directives. As a result of these calls, Safework Australia took a significant step forward in 2012 that saw the products of two factsheets outlining a code of practice for both HAV and WBV.