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Vibrations due to construction activities can pose significant risks at construction sites. Vibrations can cause health and safety hazards for workers on site, damage to equipment, and impact workmanship or product quality.
Understanding these risks is crucial for business owners in order to protect themselves from potential lawsuits and fines. Supervising personnel and workers in the construction industry should be aware of the dangers posed by vibrations and how to minimize these risks.
This post will focus on vibration risks for construction workers, their causes, and ways to prevent them.
How Does Vibration Affect Construction Workers?
When construction workers are exposed to excessive vibration levels, they can experience a range of symptoms. Certain body functions can be disrupted, such as the flow of oxygen and nutrients in the body and overall sensory input to the brain. There's also a risk of cell death or necrosis with less oxygen and nutrients going into body cells and tissues.
Other symptoms include headaches, back pain, and even the development of carpal tunnel syndrome. In some cases, workers have experienced broken bones due to vibration exposure at work in their hands or feet.
The dangers of vibration in terms of potential harm that it can cause is particularly concerning when you consider how prevalent this issue has become in modern-day workplaces.
For instance, a study found that vibration damage as a result of occupational exposure is actually more common than previously thought. This study showed that almost a quarter (21%) of participants were experiencing a range of symptoms and severities, and all of these participants had experienced exposure to vibrations on the job.
A number of factors will determine if your construction site is at risk for excessive vibration exposure. Depending on the types and number of heavy equipment used, you could be dealing with high-risk conditions in certain situations. It's worth remembering that all job sites are different based on the location and the kind of machinery being utilized. So, it's important to take proper safety precautions to avoid work-related injuries.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone working in the construction industry is at risk from vibrations caused by power tools and exposure to other job-site risks. However, those at the highest risk of vibration injuries include workers who frequently operate hand-guided or hand-held power tools or workers who hold construction materials that are often processed by a power machine.
The risk of vibration injuries is also heightened for those who work with electrical or pneumatic tools and hydraulic equipment. Certain tasks such as the use of jackhammers and nail guns can increase an individual's likelihood of developing related conditions, including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), Tendonitis, and DeQuervain syndrome.
Those who work for an extended period of time with vibrating tools are at the greatest risk, as vibrations cause irreversible damage to muscles and tissues within the body over time. In particular, spending more than 15 minutes a day using a hammer action tool or more than one hour a day using a rotary tool puts you at risk for the effects of vibrations.
Some of the common machinery and tools that pose a risk to construction workers include:
- Concrete breakers, poker, and compactors
- Hammer drills
- Sanders, grinders, and disc cutters
- Chipping hammers
- Scabblers or needle guns
Whatever tools are used on a construction site, keep in mind that physical health is also vital, especially when the body is under daily pressure to perform physically. Workers need to be physically prepared for work to avoid injuries and execute work as expected.
What are the Risks Associated with Vibration in Construction?
There are two main classifications of occupational vibration exposure you should know:
Power tools transmit this vibration to the worker’s hands, arms, and shoulders, which can eventually cause nerve damage to the fingers, hands, and wrists. Symptoms and effects of hand-arm vibration include:
- Tingling or numbness
- Pain in the hands, arms, shoulders, and neck
- Discomfort in the hand while working due to vibration transmitted through handles and tools
- Reduction in grip strength
- Reduction of power and control when working with hand tools such as drills, chisels, etc.
If a worker is exposed to vibration for long periods of time, they may be at greater risk for developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which is a condition that affects the median nerve in the wrist, causing numbness, weakness, and clumsiness in the hands.
Whole-body exposure affects multiple parts of the human anatomy, including legs and feet. Workers can also experience a range of symptoms as a result of long-term vibration exposure, such as:
- Fatigue/tiredness in muscles or joints
- Body and muscle pains
- Irritation of the skin or eyes
- Difficulty sleeping
- Headaches and irritability (due to stress)
While some symptoms may not appear immediately, the long-term effects can be debilitating. For this reason, it is important that workers who are exposed to vibration on a regular basis wear suitable protective equipment such as boots with anti-vibration properties, impact gloves with thick padding, and ear protection. It's also important for workers to know the symptoms of vibration exposure so they can seek medical attention immediately to avoid further injury.
How to Assess and Mitigate Vibration Risks
To minimize hand-arm vibration and whole-body risks, it's important for professionals in the construction industry to understand and assess the risks posed at each job site and take steps to mitigate them.
Risk assessment involves assessing each job site to determine where risks are likely and how they can be mitigated by using safe equipment, training workers on safety procedures, and inspecting tools regularly so they don't get damaged or worn down over time.
Assessing the tasks at hand is the first step in reducing risks followed by the type of tools being used and the level of vibration they produce. Because vibration can't be eliminated in some tasks, the key to reducing exposure to workers is taking steps to minimize the vibration combined with proper training.
Here's what to keep in mind:
- Worker training is vital to minimizing risks associated with vibration on construction sites.
- Through proper training, workers can learn how to use tools in a way that reduces the amount of vibration they are exposed to and avoid sharing or borrowing tools from their co-workers without properly assessing whether it's safe for them to do so.
- Regular inspections must also be done to ensure worksite safety and equipment are in working order and aren’t being overloaded.
- Tools should be inspected regularly to ensure they are not damaged or worn out, which could increase vibration levels at the worksite.
- Damaged tools will vibrate more than new ones because they won't fit together as snugly because of things like cracks that can form over time.
- If a tool is already damaged, it should be repaired before being used again.
Ensure you’re following OSHA health and safety rules at every job site. Here are some more tips for improving safety when working on construction sites:
- Use tools that have soft handles or rubber grips
- Adjust the tool’s speed control so it runs at a slower RPM
- Minimize use of power tools when working with heavy materials like concrete, bricks, etc.
- Change positions often and take breaks when working for long periods
- Avoid leaning on vibrating materials or equipment when you take a break or rest
- Increase the space between workers if necessary due to high vibration levels. If you are working with a whole-body vibration machine that creates vibrations from 0 – 100 Hz, it is important for this area to be at least 36 feet away from other workers.
- Use control measures like lockout periods to make sure that vibrations are not being passed from one source to another
- Wear vibration dampeners in the form of sleeves or anti-vibration gloves and boots if you spend long hours working with vibrating tools, machines, etc. at the construction site
With proper risk assessments and mitigation measures in place, construction workers will be able to stay safe no matter what job site they are working on while still completing their tasks efficiently with the right tools for each specific task at hand.
Vibration hazards can be a serious threat to the overall health and safety of construction workers. If workers are performing jobs on or near heavy machinery, it is important that the equipment is regularly tested and serviced as this will help prevent vibration-related injuries.
Workers who are exposed to heavy machinery on a regular basis should be given safety training and equipment that will help them protect themselves from vibration hazards. With these considerations in mind, workers can easily avoid vibration hazards and injuries.