The risk of vibration injuries increases with exposure time. Oddly, however, more and more young people need treatment for this type of problem. Working more intensively and poor knowledge of the effects may lie behind this unwelcome development.
According to the report, “Vibration injuries – a shaky story” published by AFA Insurance last year, every third occupational injury is a vibration injury. This means that vibration injuries have now passed noise injuries as the most common occupational illness. They are most frequent in male-dominated occupations where work with vibrating tools is commonplace, and the majority of those affected are around 45 years of age. In recent years, though, the seven Occupational and Environmental Medicine clinics in Sweden have noted an increase in vibration injuries among younger people. One of these clinics is in Örebro.
”In the past, those affected by vibration injuries had generally worked for thirty years or so, but now it is increasing among the under-30s. We have even had patients under 23,” says Eva Jangdin.
One of the most common forms of vibration injury is white fingers, a disorder that cannot be cured. Those affected may not only have to change their profession, but also accept a lifetime of suffering with pain, stiffness and other symptoms. It is not known exactly why vibration injuries are increasing among younger people, but high intensity of work and poor knowledge of safety procedures may be contributing factors.
Time pressure is part of working life these days. Many people work under stress and this increases the risk of injury. On top of that, knowledge of vibration injuries is rather incomplete and I feel that vocational schools, where students use vibrating hand tools or are exposed to whole-body vibration, can get better at discussing the risks of vibration and physical strain in their health and safety courses,” says Eva Jangdin.
Despite a small shift in age, most people affected are middle-aged men. Of the 460 cases in the AFA Insurance report, only 28 were women – 6% of the total.
”The longer you work with vibrating tools, the more you run the risk of injury. To some extent it is due to the aging process, but above all the exposure time is important,” says Eva Jangdin.
The vibration levels of tools varies widely between different makes and types of tools. The tools most frequently connected with cases of occupational injury at AFA Insurance are rotary hammers, impact wrenches, sanders, sabre saws, angle grinders, drills, screwdrivers and percussion drills.
How to reduce the risk of injury
It is possible to reduce the risk of strain injuries when working with vibrating tools. These are Eva Jangdin’s main tips:
• Use modern tools which vibrate as little as possible.
• Don’t hold the tool too hard in your hands – let it do the work.
• Keep your hands warm and dry.
• It is your employer’s responsibility to check how much tools vibrate and calculate how long they can be used for. Information about vibration levels is found in tool data sheets, and you can check times and limits for permissible vibration exposure on the Work Environment Authority’s website. There is a points method to quickly estimate daily exposure to vibration. You can also go to the ship’s occupational health service or a labour and environmental medical clinic to get help with vibration measurements and more accurate vibration values. Tools wear with time, and vibration levels of hand tools in product data sheets are measured in a laboratory, which can be misleading.
• If you are exposed to vibrations over the time limit, you should go to the regular medical checks that are offered to make sure that any injuries are detected in time and can be stopped.
• As far as possible, avoid working with vibrating tools in confined spaces since you are often forced into difficult working positions.
• It is good to change workstations to increase the variation of movements. Repetitive and monotonous movements are generally not good for the body.
• Use the appropriate aids and personal protective equipment. Vibration protective gloves should be used with caution, however, as they can give a false sense of security and result in you working too long with vibrating tools. The gloves are also rather thick, which decreases the sensation in your hands and may mean that you hold the tool too hard.
• Smoking, snuff and certain types of medicine increase the risk of strain and vibration injuries.
• Take breaks during long working sessions to allow time for recovery.