WBV results from a shaking or jolting of the body through a seat or floor. Everyone should be concerned about WBV because prolonged exposure can affect health. The most commonly reported WBV injury is back pain. Most exposure to WBV at work is unlikely, on its own, to cause back pain but you need to be aware of the risk, undertake a broad risk assessment and carry out appropriate and reasonable control action.
Levels of WBV depend on the task, condition and speed of the vehicle, ground conditions, driver skill and the duration of the operation. The risk of back injury from WBV is increased in older people, where a back injury already exists, where there is unusually high vibration or jolting, or vibration for long periods of time. Among those operations causing the greatest risk, HSE cites primary cultivation and mowing or where vehicles are driven for transport reasons on poor surfaces.
Manufacturers of tractors, mowers and other ride-on kit have worked hard in recent years to lower WBV levels. Nevertheless, you should assess the risks, taking into account the equipment, the site and the health of the operator.
Start by collecting information. Check machine/vehicle handbooks for warnings of risks of WBV. Ask employees if they are being jolted or continuously shaken and whether they have existing back or other health problems.
You should always select the right machine for the job, making sure it isn’t underpowered for that task and the conditions at the time. Other actions would include upgrading poor seating to, say, suspension seating. Note that vehicles should not be driven so fast that the suspension seat reaches the end of its travel and hits the end stops. Job rotation can also play a part in reducing an operator’s exposure. As with HAV, WBV has exposure action and limit values. The exposure action value is set at a daily (eight hour) exposure of 0.5m/s2. This is the maximum amount of vibration an employee may be exposed to on any single day. The limit value is 1.15m/s2.
If you are concerned about the levels of exposure that an operator may receive in an eight-hour period, you could invest in monitoring equipment. Sears Seating of Ebbw Vale, Gwent, has a range of vibration-reducing systems, including a retrofit solution that uses computer technology to monitor and reduce the vibrations to the operator by as much as 60 per cent. Contact Sears Seating on 01495 304518.
There are other things you can do to help avoid back problems. Start by always choosing equipment with well-designed controls that eliminate the need to stretch or twist. Make sure that operators adjust seats correctly, maintain good posture, do not sit for long periods without changing position and do not drive aggressively.
Note: The rules include a transitional arrangement that allows equipment given to workers before 6 July 2007 to be used until July 2010. If employers choose to keep using such kit, they must take all reasonably practical actions to reduce exposure.
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