Vibration from power tools such as chainsaws, grinders, jack hammers, sorting conveyors, drill motors, crushers, chippers, mowers and other equipment can cause serious injury to your hands when used over long periods of time. Workers in construction, shipyards, manufacturing, forestry, agriculture & food processing, stone cutters, and others are exposed to vibration by the tools they use.  Symptoms start with occasional tingling or numbness in the fingers which can progress to painful spasms of the hand which last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. There can be a whitish coloration of the fingers, known as “finger blanching”. This affliction is known as Vibration White Finger Syndrome (VWF) or sometimes referred to as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome or HAVS.

What are the health effects of exposure to vibration?

There are two types of vibration: Whole Body Vibration (WBV) and Hand-Arm Vibration (HAV).

Whole Body Vibration

Operators, drivers and passengers of machines and vehicles in workplaces can be exposed to harmful levels of whole body vibration. The main sources of harmful WBV in vehicles and machines are:

  • Rough road and surface conditions and resistance forces, e.g. mobile plant with scraper blades
  • Vehicle activity
  • Engine vibration

Health Effects of WBVWhole Body Vibration

  • Lower back pain (damage to vertebrae and discs, ligaments loosened from shaking)
  • Motion sickness
  • Bone damage
  • Varicose veins/heart conditions (variation in blood pressure from vibration);
  • Stomach and digestive conditions;
  • Respiratory, endocrine and metabolic changes;
  • Impairment of vision, balance or both;
  • Reproductive organ damage.

The longer a worker is exposed to WBV, the greater the risk of health effects and muscular disorders.

Hand - Arm Vibration

Hand-arm vibration is vibration transmitted to the hand and arm during the operation of hand-held power tools and hand-guided equipment, or holding materials being processed by machines. Hand-arm vibration is commonly experienced by workers who regularly use tools such as jackhammers, chainsaws, grinders, drills, riveters and impact wrenches.

Exposure to hand–arm vibration can be increased by factors such as:

Tool characteristics:Hand - Arm Vibration

  • Higher magnitude of acceleration of vibration
  • Poor tool maintenance
  • Minimal handle insulation
  • Increased weight of tool
  • increased surface area of hand in contact with tool
  • harder material being contacted

Work organization:

  • Long exposure during each work shift and years of exposure
  • lower duration and frequency of rest periods
  • lower temperature of work environment

Individual's characteristics:

  • Gripping the handle more tightly than needed
  • Awkward postures and working overhead
  • Low operator skill; poor technique
  • Individual lifestyle factors (e.g. smoking)
  • An individual's medical history (e.g. disease or prior injury to fingers, hands or wrists) 

Health Effects of HAV

  • White finger (also known as "dead finger”) - damage to hands causing whiteness and pain in the fingers
  • Carpel tunnel syndrome (and other symptoms similar to occupational overuse syndrome)
  • Sensory nerve damage
  • Muscle and joint damage in the hands and arms ('tennis elbow')

These conditions and diseases can have very serious consequences for people. The effects can be permanently disabling even after a few years of uncontrolled exposure.

Action Plan

A strategy to prevent work related injury and illness must be aimed at modifying the workplace - controlling the hazard at source - rather than modifying, screening or excluding workers from the workplace.

  1. Talk to your members to find out if they are having a problem.
  2. If you identify vibration as a problem, then approach your employer to negotiate changes to the workplace. The usual 'hierarchy of control' should be followed, that is:
    • Eliminate or substitute
    • Engineering
    • Administrative
    • PPE

What this might mean regarding vibration is as follows:High Vibration Warnings

  • Elimination: Purchasing of non-vibrating products and tools
  • Substitution of high vibration tools with better designed low vibration tools ( non pneumatic power tools, use of cushioning or spring grips or rubber shock absorbers to reduce kick-back)
  • Provision of vibration absorbing and ergonomically designed seats to give proper postural support and comfort; improvement of suspension of cabs and existing seats in vehicles
  • Installation of engineering controls on vibrating machinery (mounting machine on a heavy base, using insulating mountings, sinking machine into a pit; use of vibration dampeners)
  • Proper and regular maintenance of all vehicles, machinery and tools
  • Introduction of administrative procedures (job and/or equipment rotation and regular rest breaks)
  • Provision of gloves
  • Provision of training on how to prevent health problems caused by vibration.

There are hundreds of different types of power tools and equipment which can cause ill-health from vibration.

Concrete breakers/road breakers
Cut-off saws
Hammer drills
Hand-held grinders

Impact wrenches
Needle scalers
Pedestal grinders

Power hammers & chisels
Powered lawn mowers
Powered sanders
Strimmers/brush cutters