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Whole Body Vibration

Filed under: Safety

There are countless health and safety hazards within every working environment and whole body vibration is one of them. Both operators and passengers of machines and vehicles are exposed to harmful levels of whole body vibration (WBV). Whole body vibration can result in numerous health effects from musculoskeletal disorders to loss of vision.

Lift truck operators are one of the many exposed to vibration in their daily work. Vibration levels need to be taken seriously in order to guarantee the comfort and safety of lift truck operators and it is important that these vibrations do not exceed certain levels. 

This week’s blog will include important information regarding whole body vibration, from what it is, to, how one can reduce and/or eliminate exposure.

Vibrating forklift steering wheel

What is Whole Body Vibration?

Whole body vibration (WBV) is the vibration that is transmitted through the seat, when an employee is driving machines over rough and uneven surfaces. It is important to note that an operator’s posture can affect the transmission of the vibration to the body. 

What are the Health Effects of Whole Body Vibration?

The most commonly reported disorder, resulting from WBV, is lower back pain. Although, studies have shown that long-term exposure to WBV increases the risk of more serious health effects, such as, herniated disc and early degeneration of the spine. Other health effects can include:

• Digestive problems
• Reproductive organ damage
• Impairment of vision and/or balance
• Cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine and metabolic changes

lower back pain

What are the causes of Whole Body Vibration?

The main causes of WBV include rough roads, resistance forces, vehicle activity and engine vibration. Factors that increase or decrease WBV exposure includes:

• Road construction/maintenance
• Vehicle type
• Age/condition of vehicle
• Maintenance of vehicle suspension systems
• Cab layout
• Lighting and visibility

How can exposure to WBV be reduced or eliminated?

One is able to minimise or eliminate exposure to WBV through minimising, vibration at the source, the paths of vibration and vibration at the position of the worker. Employers should:

• Choose the right vehicle for the conditions of the application
• Maintain seat and consider fitting with a high quality replacement
• Set variable speed limits that are relative to ground conditions
• Train employees on how to operate equipment effectively
• Ensure operators know how to adjust their seats correctly
• Rotate drivers to limit exposure in high risk areas
• Improve ground conditions and maintain housekeeping
• Keep records of risk assessment and incidents

Workers should be consulted when setting priorities and identifying solutions. A combination of control measures need to be put in place to reduce exposure to WBV:

• Modifying processes to eliminate the risk
• Redesigning the task or equipment
• Purchase of machines designed to reduce vibration
• Implementation of a seat maintenance program

ergonomic seat

How can forklift distributors reduce the impact of whole body vibration?

Distributors should ensure that drivers are only exposed to minimum levels of forklift vibration in order for the operator to stay alert and productive for the duration of the shift. Distributors should work closely with forklift operators and owners to:

• Survey the application in order to identify potential issues on site
• Specify the right vehicle for application conditions
• Configure forklift features to suit application conditions
• Review risk assessments and corrective actions

risk assessment

Vibration Measurement

Measurement of whole body vibration can be both difficult and expensive. If a worker perceives that roughness of the ride is reaching levels considered unpleasant, it is likely that their exposure to whole body vibration is reaching levels that risk their health.

Expert measurement of WBV exposures can help in identifying workers who are exposed to damaging vibration levels, vehicles and machines that produce excessive vibration and whether controls have been effective.

workers exposed to vibration graph

The health risks associated with whole body vibration emphasise the importance of ensuring that vibration levels are kept to an absolute minimum. Reducing whole body vibration will not only improve the productivity of workers, but will also improve health and safety standards within the workplace.

Decreasing the impact of whole body vibration is a three-way responsibility between employees, employers and forklift distributors.


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