Whole-body vibration and back pain
Whole-body vibration occurs when mechanical energy oscillations are transferred to the body as a whole, commonly through a seat or platform. Instances of exposure to WBV include driving automobiles or trucks and operating industrial vehicles. Workers at high risk of WBV are drivers of construction and quarrying vehicles, agriculture machinery, industrial trucks, and rail vehicles. Workers operating static compaction, hammering or punching machinery also are at risk of WBV.
The chances of suffering a back injury increase the longer a worker is exposed to WBV and the higher the level of vibration, according to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. If your employees regularly drive vehicles or operate machinery, you should assume they are at risk for WBV.
To help reduce WBV exposure, Washington L&I recommends supervisors do the following:
- Ensure vehicles and machinery are properly maintained, specifically suspension components.
- Check the driver’s seat to ensure it is in good shape and provides adequate support.
- Check whether a suspension seat is fitted suitably to the vibration characteristics of the machine. If not, determine if a suitable seat can be fitted.
- Ensure fitted suspension seats are adjusted to the operator’s weight according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- heck the vehicle’s tires – they should be inflated to the proper pressure for the ground surface.
For long-term prevention, Washington L&I advises purchasing low-vibration vehicles and machinery. Often, manufacturers can provide vibration data for products. Also, ask manufacturers or suppliers for help on how to maintain equipment to reduce the effects of WBV on operators.
Topics that supervisors should discuss with their employees include:
- How to properly adjust a vehicle or machine’s seat for proper posture
- Ways to identify vehicles or machines and work situations with the highest levels of vibration and how to rotate operators to reduce vibration exposure
- How to improve the surface over which vehicles travel by repairing potholes, clearing debris or leveling the ground
- The benefits of reporting back discomfort and pain early
- The importance of receiving medical attention if a worker believes exposure to WBV is causing problems