Vibrations: How Harmful Can These Be for Construction Workers

vibrations how harmful can these be

Every town or urban setup owes its stature to its outstanding infrastructure — buildings, bridges, roads and railways among other structures. Looking at their beauty, it’s hard to think of the difficulty people had in building these super structures.

And it’s even harder to picture how the tasks affect the health of construction workers. Part of the routine of these workers is the use of machines that produce vibrations that are detrimental to their health. Know what are the effects of vibration on the human body and how to prevent them.


So, where exactly does vibration come from?

There are two types of vibrations — hand-arm and whole body vibration.

Hand-arm vibration (HAV) is transmitted to your hands and arms while you are operating hand-guided equipment and hand-held power tools. Vibrations that hands and arms feel when holding materials being processed by machines also fall under this category.

construction worker using a jackhammer 

Hand-arm vibration is felt by workers who frequently use jackhammers, grinders, chainsaws, drills, impact wrenches and riveters.

Harmful whole body vibration (WBV), on the other hand, comes from vehicle activity, engine vibration and rough surface conditions or bumpy roads and resistance forces.

These can be amplified by road construction activity, vehicle design, vehicle condition, vehicle suspension systems maintenance, vehicle speed, driver awareness and skills and work organisation can increase or decrease exposure to WBV.

Moreover, things like tool characteristics, work organisation and individual characteristics and skills can increase or decrease exposure to HAV.


Types of construction activities that generate vibration

These  construction activities generate vibrations:

Road Construction is done using heavy equipment and machinery.

Machine operators experience vibrations at virtually every stage of the construction process. For starters, the laying of sub grade involves digging up the sub-soil and thoroughly compacting the sub-grade. In this, you use rollers weighing up to 8 tonnes.

These rollers are used to compact different layers. They make rapid humming movements which register as whole body vibrations on the operator.

Machines used in creation of curbs and other concrete materials also produce vibrations.  

worker using a extractor

And when you are installing new valves, pipes, fittings and manholes, you need to drill and do excavation. These drillers and excavators frequently generate a lot  of vibration.  

Moreover, hand-arm vibration is produced in concrete removal, brought about by hammers and jackhammers.and tools used to shape building stones.

stone-chipping tool

But it’s not only in construction site that vibrations can be observed.  Construction workers in quarries also experience both hand-arm and whole body vibrations from pneumatic stone-chipping tools.

With so many activities causing hand-arm and whole body vibration, it’s important to understand how vibrations adversely affect the health of construction workers to minimise so to minimise the impact of such vibration.


Side-effects of vibration

HAV and WBV can cause harm if not kept in check.

WBV frequently causes or exacerbates health effects such as lower back pain. A person is likely to have lower back pain because their ligaments get loose due to the repeated shaking. Vibration can also cause mild to acute damage to the back bone and discs.

fallen from ladder

This kind of vibration may also cause motion sickness, damage to bones and reproductive organs, vision or balance impairment, digestion problems, heart conditions and changes in respiratory and endocrine systems.

The risk of having these health problems increases when a worker is exposed to WBV for a long time.  

Another effect of HAV is Vibration-induced white finger (VWF).

VWF is the most common among persons who operate hand-held tools that produce vibrations. Symptoms of VWF become more amplified when exposed to cold.

achy shoulder

Such vibration can cause change muscles, tendons, joints and bones and even impair the nervous system. These effects are collectively referred to as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).


Common symptoms of HAVS

  • Blanching (whitening) of one or more fingers when exposed to cold;
  • Tingling feeling on the fingers and loss of sensation;
  • Pain and cold sensations in between episodic white finger attacks;
  • Loss of grip strength; and
  • Bone cysts in wrists and fingers.  

These symptoms develop gradually, becoming severe over time. Problem is, HAVS may take up to several years before becoming clinically noticeable.

Overall, vibration induced health conditions develop slowly. You only feel pain in the beginning. But with continued exposure, this develops into an injury or ailment.


Ways to minimise the impact of vibrations

Here are some measures to minimise the dangers of vibration:

1. Right choice of equipment 

Use low-vibration equipment and tools.

low-vibration equipment

Using equipment that is for instance not powerful enough or is too small may entail longer time to complete the task. This translates to longer exposure to vibration.


2. Proper work practices

Improper use of equipment is one reason ailments develop from vibrations.

With this in mind, familiarise yourself thoroughly with how the equipment should be operated so you it would produce less vibration. Further, limit loads on hands and wrists and ensure you apply the right grip force.

safety construction attire

Always wear the right gloves and clothing. Where possible, make use of suspension systems and jigs to take vibration and weight of equipment away from the operator.


3. Regular worker rotation

Rotating workers ensure they get the right break from such exposure to harmful vibrations. They would have enough rest so they need to handle equipment correctly and safely.

The effects of vibration can be prevented or at least contained provided you know how to do it. The above steps are enough to keep workers safe from the impact of vibrations.

Benefits of the OHS Act Concrete Cutting and Drilling Regulations

The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act has laid down some strict guidelines for the Australian workforce. The regulations are there to protect the workers by making various demands of the employers. Workers who cut and drill concrete will see several regulations introduced that are designed to make their job safer. Below are some of the benefits those workers will enjoy.

safety gears

Controlling Risks

One of the benefits that come from strict government regulations is an increased focus on controlling the risks of the job. It’s now the employer’s job to control all risks whenever it is reasonably possible to do so. If it is not so, then it’s still their job to reduce the risk as much as possible.

Employers can control risks in different ways such as replacing the hazardous job with a safer alternative, isolating the hazard using barriers or specialised equipment or controlling the risk using mechanical and electrical tools.

Administrative procedures are used to control as much of the remaining risks as possible. If there are still risks after administrative controls are implemented, then employers must supply personal protective equipment to control the remaining risk. This could include sunscreen, helmets, and specialised clothing.

If there is any risk in the workplace, then the employer must do everything possible to mitigate this risk. All of this lies on the shoulders of the employer thanks to the OHS Act. It makes the job safer for all of the workers involved. This is one of many changes that came from this act that helped to improve the workplace for construction workers cutting and drilling concrete.

Reducing Exposure to Gas and Dust

One of the many hazards that comes with concrete cutting and drilling is a prolonged exposure to large quantities of dust. Much of this exposure could be to silica dust, which can lead to the development of a serious medical condition known as silicosis.

The equipment itself can generate high volumes of toxic exhaust fumes. This includes equipment powered through hydraulic packs or internal combustion engines. The toxic fumes can reach dangerous levels when the equipment is used in a poorly ventilated area.

It’s up to the employer to identify and control these risks under the OHS Act. There are strict regulations in place to reduce the worker’s exposure to these dusts and gases while working. For example, equipment used for drilling and cutting concrete should be fitted with extraction devices whenever it is possible. This is to eliminate the majority of dust produced when drilling.

The production of dust can also be reduced using wet cutting techniques. It also helps keep the blade cooler, which prevents it from cracking or breaking free. They may also be advised to use slower tools to produce less dust. Fans should always be used to keep the area ventilated properly.

Reducing Damage from Vibration

The equipment used for cutting and drilling concrete tends to vibrate a lot. This can lead to damage of the vascular system, nervous system, and even the spine. It can also causes workers to suffer from extreme fatigue, headaches, and hearing problems. It’s one of those things that was overlooked for too long, but is now controlled thanks to the OHS Act. It’s now the employer’s responsibility to make running the equipment as safe as possible for the workers.

One way this risk is mitigated is by purchasing specialised equipment that does not require manual support to operate or equipment that is specially designed for minimal vibrations. Equipment that is balanced and light tends to vibrate less. It’s also best if the equipment can be held in either hand to reduce stress on one particular side of the body.

Most modern equipment is manufactured with handles designed to absorb much of the vibration. There should also be an even surface to allow for an equal distribution of force when holding the handle. If there aren’t handles like this, then consider using rubber lagging around the handles to absorb the vibration.

Developing Safe Methods of Work

Under the OHS Act, it’s the employer’s job to develop a safe working environment for any job with a potential risk. Almost all concrete and drilling jobs involve risk, so the employer typically considers these before every job. It’s mandatory to create a safe work method statement when the work is considered high-risk.

What is High-risk Work?

If the work is more than two metres above the ground, then it’s considered high-risk. It’s also high-risk if there is asbestos involved. Other work considered high-risk include: If there’s a need for temporary support to keep a structure standing during work or any work performed in small, confined spaces, in shafts, or in tunnels.

Work performed near or on railways in use or roads in use as well as jobs near bodies of water are considered high-risk. Also any job in an environment which has extreme temperatures, either hot or cold. In any such work environment, the employer must design a safe work method statement.

Creating one of these statements requires the input of the workers involved and the health and safety representatives. It must outline all potential risks of the job and how they are to be controlled. As mentioned above, the employer is obligated to control all of the risks associated with the job.