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W.B.V - Whole body vibration

Whilst Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (frequently abbreviated to HAVS) is the most common form of work related, vibration induced injuries,  another variant which can have just as serious side-effects is Whole Body Vibration (referred to in the industry as WBV).

These are vibrations that when produced are transmitted through the subjects lower limbs (feet and/or legs) or the operators seat. Drivers/operators of certain machines such as tractors, fork lift trucks, quarry and earth moving equipment are most likely to experience symptoms of WBV.

Controlling Vibration Risks

By law all employers HAVE pre-emptive actions to reduce the amount of exposure the whole body vibration and its associated risks and complications. The employer needs to consider and explore whether there are any alternative route that can be taken such as:

  • Alternative machines that replace the physical human exposure element
  • Employing more staff on a rotary basis to spread workloads and exposure ratings
  • Systematic and periodical (every day for example) checks of both the equipment and working environment

Obviously some of these methods have cost and economical effects but with vibration exposures the persons safety should always be the highest of priorities as fines and punishments could heavily outlay the outlay on additional staff or new equipment.

According to HSE 40% of work sites failed to properly protect its workers with 1 in 5 so bad that ‘formal enforcement action’ was necessary. Nearly half of the audited sites had ‘unacceptable conditions’ and ‘dangerous practices’, but many of these issues could have been avoided by simple management and planning.

Some measures, such as the recruitment of additional staff, staff training or the replacement/purchasing of new equipment can take a large amount of time to implement and so an ‘action plan’ must be created. The plan must which personnel including managers, supervisors and employees are responsible for implantation and delivery by the date set whilst also including appropriate testing controls.

Work site Protection
1 in 5 sites
Unacceptable conditions
Work site Protection
1 in 5 sites
Unacceptable conditions

Unlike with HAVS, WBV symptoms can mimic fatigue with muscle aches and pains. Another aspect is that general work including heavy lifting and even your posture can cause WBV symptoms.

The exposure level for Whole Body Vibration is split into 2 sections:

  1. The rate at which the employer has to implement measures (both technical and organisational) to reduce the operators exposure, referred to as the ‘Exposure Action Value'.
  1. The total exposure time for a working day, referred to as the ‘Exposure Limit Value’

The two exposures are listed in the graph below:

Exposure Action Value

Exposure Limit Value

0.5 m/s2

1.15 m/s2

Whole Body Vibrations are calculated via the 3 axis that the energy channeled by vibrations travels:

  1. The X axis - this is the horizontal movement caused by vibrations (forward and backwards motion)
  2. The Y axis - this is the lateral movement caused by vibrations (side to side motion)
  3. The Z axis - this is the vertical movement caused by vibrations (up and down motion)

Once these 3 values are known you can accurately calculate the exposure ratings for your working process.

The basic symptoms of WBV include but are not limited to:-

  • Lower back pain - especially around the area surrounding the coccyx (tailbone) and round the base of your back level with the hips
  • Electric shock feeling in the back - particlary in the lower areas that surround the base of your back
  • Tingling (medically known as 'paraesthesia' commonly known as pins & needles) in the lower limbs, especially in the areas around your ankles, feet and lower calf
  • Muscle tightness in the back making it difficult to stand and walk. This will make you form a 'hunched back' posture

Symptoms of WBV can be exacerbated via poor posture when sitting, incorrect lifting techniques when moving heavy objects both onsite and in everyday life and general fatigue.

X,Y and Z axis model Here you can clearly see the 3 axis that energy created via vibrations can and will travel. The image shown is of a modern tractor seat, the kind of environment where WBV is an issue.

You can see the cushioning system that has been implemented at the base of the seat to limit Z axis vibrations.

The system will allow the seat to rise and fall with the movement in the vehicle to keep the driver level, this creates a 'suspended' feeling as if the seat is suspended from the roof when the going gets rough.

When the ‘Exposure Action Value’ is reached the employer must administer procedures to help prevent the employee from regularly exceeding the maximum exposure limit. Employers are encouraged to not regard this level as a target but a way to keep their employees safe.

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulation 2005 is based upon an EU directive that requires a reflective law throughout the European Union that protects a workers health and safety from vibrations. This mirrored directive is drawn from the European Physical Agents (vibration) Directive and deals with the risk from vibrations at work and is one of several ‘Physical Agent Directives’ dealing with issues such as noise, dust, vibrations etc.

There are a few simple ways to help lower the exposure rate for equipment operators:

  • Spreading the work load over several days - this is a solution which has an economic effect but is the most simple and effective device to reduce WBV
  • Using more than one worker on a rotational pattern - this has less of an impact than spreading the work lad as it allows for more productivity with the vibration exposure spread across a team of several people
  • Checking the equipment being used is of a friendly ergonomic design - such as the tractor chair we have shown above
  • Making sure that the correct form of seating and vehicle set up is used to minimise fatigue
  • Ensuring that during the working day there are sufficient, timed breaks so operators can rest and move (the ability to go for a walk helps prevent other serious conditions).

Obviously the main measure to help limit vibration exposure is to limit/reduce the amount of time someone can use a vibrating piece of equipment. On limited occasions, employers are permitted to average exposure limits over a week rather than the usual day.

This is built around workers that will be exposed to exceptionally and uncommonly high rate of vibrations during a single day.

This ONLY applies to extreme circumstances such as immediate emergency work such as broken cabling and burst pipework. This added flexibility does not remove the need or duty of the employer to reduce exposure rates for its employees and machine operators.

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