The use of power tools can expose workers to vibration through the hands and arms. Frequent, regular and prolonged exposure to this can cause permanent ill health and conditions such as hand-arm vibration syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome. Sufferers can experience tingling and numbness in the fingers, pain, a loss of strength in the hands and an inability to do fine work.
Regulations require that employers assess and control the risks of vibration exposure, provide employees with information, instruction and training on the risk and how to control it and provide health surveillance where required.
Exposure is a combination of the vibration level a tool produces and the amount of time it is triggered for. There are a number of methods for measuring time from a simple stopwatch to devices that attach to the user, the tool or the power supply.
But what about vibration level? The Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008 require manufacturers to minimise machinery vibration risk and declare vibration emission. There are various British standard test codes that manufacturers can use to obtain declared vibration levels. But do the declared vibration levels reflect actual tool usage?
Over the years the HSE have carried out much research into vibration and recently they published a number of reports with the results of this research.
The first of these reports “RR1162 – Standard test codes for the declaration of vibration emission: a review of research carried out by the Health and Safety Executive” gives an overview of HSE research carried out to investigate vibration emission information from standard test codes for 31 different power tool categories.
This report found that “Results showed that vibration emission data measured according to the latest test codes are useful for identifying low or high vibration power tools in some, but not all, cases. Typically, in-use vibration is under-estimated, rendering the data unsuitable for risk assessment.” And recommends “Employers and users of power tools should seek corroboration of data they intend to use for risk assessment to assure the data are reliable for estimating hand-arm vibration exposures.”
Two further reports look at the effectiveness of specific testing standards. Note; while these reports have only recently been published they do relate to research carried out by the HSE up to 2013.
There are a number of reasons why testing may not produce results that accurately reflect real world use of a tool for example vibration can be affected by usage techniques, the type of material it is used on, accessories, condition etc.
One method for obtaining vibration data is to carry out actual workplace measurements of the tools used in your workplace. Please speak to your normal PIB Risk Management contact or get in touch using firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or would like to arrange an assessment of vibration exposure in your workplace.
The research reports can be downloaded from the HSE’s website at:
RR1162 – Standard test codes for the declaration of vibration emission: a review of research carried out by the Health and Safety Executive https://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrhtm/rr1162.htm
RR1163 – The effectiveness of British Standard BS EN ISO 28927-11:2001 concerning the vibration emission of stone hammers https://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrhtm/rr1163.htm
RR1164 – The effectiveness of British Standard BS EN ISO 28927-10:2011 concerning the vibration emission of percussive drills, hammers and breakers https://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrhtm/rr1164.htm