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Regular use of vibrating equipment and vehicles can lead to debilitating health problems such as long term damage to hands and fingers and chronic back pain from shocks and jolts driving certain types of vehicles.

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations (the Vibration Regulations) aim to protect workers from risk to their health from vibration by making it a requirement for employers to assess and identify measures to eliminated or reduce risks from exposure to vibration.  The regulations set the following levels:

  • a daily exposure action value (EAV) at which employers need to introduce technical and organisational measures to reduce exposure; and
  • a daily exposure limit value (ELV) which should not be exceeded.

For hand-arm vibration (HAV) the EAV is 2.5 m/s2 A(8) and the ELV is 5.0 m/s2 A(8)

For whole body vibration (WBV) the EAV is 0.5m/s2 A(8) and the ELV is 1.15 m/s2 A(8)

Exposure should be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable by:

  • introducing control measures whenever employees’ daily exposure to vibration is likely to exceed the EAV; and
  • not exposing employees to above the ELV.

Employers must take action to prevent exposure to vibration and this should be done by considering whether there are other processes, methods or equipment that would eliminate the exposure to vibration. 

If this isn’t possible, the exposure should be reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable by:

  • introducing control measures whenever employees' daily exposure to vibration is likely to exceed the exposure action value; and
  • not exposing employees above the exposure limit value.

Some controls may take time to put in place, particularly where machines must be replaced or new ways of doing things have to be developed, and so an action plan that clearly states which managers, supervisors and employees are responsible for its delivery, what testing needs to be completed and when this all needs to be completed by is normally required.

Where the risks are low, the necessary controls may be simple and inexpensive, but where the risks are high, actions might need to be prioritised.

Where required, duty holders must ensure that:

  • control measures to reduce vibration are properly applied; and
  • information, training and health surveillance is provided for affected workers.

The surveillance programme should be set up so that vulnerable workers are monitored for certain early warning signs and symptoms as the earlier they get spotted, the better.

Symptoms of over-exposure to vibration include:

  • either pain or a lack of feeling in fingers and hands;
  • numbness and tingling in fingers;
  • an inability to sleep;
  • loss of strength in hands; and
  • fingers turning white then red (particularly in cold and damp weather).

Some workers experience these symptoms after exposure to vibration for just a matter of months while others might go on for years without any apparent issue. However long it takes for symptoms to emerge, if neglected, they can become permanent.

It’s essential that controls are reviewed if anything changes that may affect workers’ exposures to vibration so that they don’t exceed the action and limit values prescribed by the Vibration Regulations.