Whole body vibration hazards

Article published in the Regulator | Issue 4: 2017 

Four years ago, NOPSEMA published an article in Issue 1 of The Regulator on hand–arm vibration. That article highlighted the potential health effects of hand–arm vibration hazards to offshore workers who operate handheld power tools and equipment such as angle grinders, needle guns, drills and impact wrenches. A similar but perhaps less well known hazard is whole body vibration (WBV).

Workers are at risk of injury from WBV if appropriate measures are not applied to manage the impacts of vibrating mechanical equipment. Further, working for prolonged periods on structures attached to vibrating mechanical equipment may pose serious health effects that could lead to permanent, progressive and/or irreversible musculoskeletal disorders.

Where personnel are required to work on vibrating equipment for extended periods, facility operators should ensure a WBV or health risk assessment has been undertaken to determine the risks. There are various control measures that can be put in place to eliminate or reduce risks associated with WBV hazards to ALARP. These controls may be engineered or administrative, such as:

  • substituting hazardous equipment with safer options, for example purchasing equipment with lower vibration emissions

  • isolating the hazard from workers, such as isolating or dampening a work platform to eliminate or minimise mechanical equipment vibration using rubber mounts

  • limiting the amount of time workers are exposed to WBV.

Operators are reminded to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that all work is carried out in a manner that is safe and without risk to the health of any person at or near the facility. Safe Work Australia has published information about the risks posed by WBV and control measures, available at www.safeworkaustralia.com.au.