Whole body vibration (WBV) is probably the most misunderstood risk that an occupational health advisor will encounter when visiting employees in certain industries.
The name itself can be confusing; whilst it is technically correct, employers often believe it is associated with the same risks factors as for hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). This is not helped by WBV being bundled with HAVS legislation as part of The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 and similar documentation and measurements.
Dispelling whole body vibration myths
Employees and employers alike often believe that it is related to, for example, engine vibration acting on parts of the body in a similar way powered tools causing HAVS.
The risk is, primarily one of driving vehicles over uneven surfaces, causing the occupants to bounce up and down and side to side. When the practitioner explains that it might be better understood if it was called ‘jiggling up and down syndrome’, it then becomes clear that the risks and effects are totally different to hand transmitted vibration, despite the similar sounding name and terminology used.
The predominant health effect is that of musculoskeletal injury to those bones and joints, particularly in the neck and spine, which act as a shock absorber when driving over uneven ground.
In simpler terms, the more the operator bounces up and down, the greater the exposure.
Risks of exposure to whole body vibration
Typical scenarios may include:
How to limit exposure
There are several simple steps that can be taken by an employer to limit exposure, which include:
Employers should understand about the exposure action and limit values related to WBV and understand their obligations regarding limiting exposure.
Employees should be encouraged to report symptoms in a timely fashion and consideration should be given to referring exposed employees to an occupational health provider for assessment, review, and advice on future exposure.
Author: Simon Jukes, Deputy Chief Occupational Health Advisor, MOHS Workplace Health