Millions of American workers risk neurological, vascular and musculoskeletal harm by absorbing vibrations from using power tools.
Workers who use equipment like jackhammers, riveters, chainsaws, and drills for hours every day could suffer vibration injuries from operating these tools.
Symptoms include tingling, numbness, pain, and discoloration in the fingers, as well as weakened grip from nerve and blood vessel damage, according to the National Safety Council.
What are some common risk factors?
The risk of vibration injuries from using power tools exists regardless of whether the tool is powered by electricity, gasoline or air.
Workers in the construction, maintenance, mining, forestry, transportation, agriculture, and automotive industries face the dangers of vibration injuries from using power tools.
Uneven terrain, bumpy roads, potholes, and even choppy waves at sea are common contributors to whole-body vibrations.
When a truck, tractor or ship traverses these obstacles, vibrations transfer through the vehicle and its seat to the operator’s pelvis and lumbar spine. Repeated exposure can hurt spinal discs, and accumulated vibrations can trigger back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders.
Another danger is Raynaud’s syndrome. This is a disease that causes some areas of the body, like fingers and toes, to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In Raynaud’s syndrome, smaller arteries that supply blood to the skin become narrow, limiting blood circulation to impacted areas of the body. These areas usually change color into white and then blue.
In addition, workers who regularly operate jackhammers and other power tools that produce loud noises are at risk of hearing loss.
Avoiding injuries caused by vibration
Here are tips from the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) on how to avoid or reduce vibration injuries when using power tools:
- Maintain machines well. Unbalanced rotating parts or unsharpened cutting tools can give off excessive vibration.
- Arrange work tasks so that vibrating and nonvibrating tools can be used alternately.
- Restrict the number of hours a worker uses a vibrating tool during the workday. Allow employees should take 10-minute to 15-minute breaks from the source of the vibration every hour.
- Train workers about the hazards of working with vibrating tools. Instruction should include the sources of vibration exposure, early signs and symptoms of hand-arm vibration syndrome (a disorder of the hands and forearms from prolonged exposure to vibration) and work practices to minimize vibration exposure.
- Tell workers to keep their hands warm and dry, and to avoid gripping a vibrating tool too tightly. Advise workers to let the tool or machine do the work.
Also, the use of air ride seats and seat suspension systems can minimize vibrations absorbed by workers operating agricultural, construction and commercial vehicles.
What should employers do to lessen the risk?
For employers, communication is key. Once the worker begins showing symptoms of injuries, it’s too late.
If employers can become aware of these injuries and how they develop, they can know to provide warm and dry work environments, training, well-maintained tools and perhaps ways to get work done without the use of vibrating power tools.
The first step is to give the proper information that vibration is an occupational risk factor, said Alice Turcot, occupational health researcher at the National Public Health Institute of Quebec.
Complicating the issue? Vibration damage to the body can be mistaken for other common work-related ailments. For example, is a truck driver experiencing back pain from steady vibration exposure or years of lifting cargo?
Contact Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano Attorneys At Law in New York City today for help with cases involving vibration injuries from operating power tools.