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Whole Body Vibration

New Guidance Document on Whole Body Vibration to be Released (20/08/04)

Whole-body vibration (WBV) is concerned with the transmission of vibration into the human body. This vibration normally, but not exclusively, comes from a self-propelled moving vehicle and acts upon the individual such that it contributes to, or creates either physical and/or mental negative-health. Many aspects of this ‘initial’ definition of WBV, will be looked at in much more detail within this guide.

It has been reported that the concept of WBV was first identified as an environmental stressor during the 1920s and 30s, not surprisingly, at a time when motor vehicles, agricultural machinery and aircraft were becoming more popular (Stayner, 2001, p17). While that initial identification appeared to be concerned principally with vehicular comfort (ibid.); the increasing recognition of WBV since those early beginnings has been matched with ever more research and investigation into the subject, designed to try and better understand the phenomenon and its negative-health effects (i.e. upon those who are subjected to it).

Despite this momentum over the last seventy-odd years, there remain those who feel that knowledge regarding WBV is ‘incomplete’ (Palmer et al, 1999, p6). Indeed, within the literature there has been, and continues to some extent, much debate on this theme (cf. Stayner, 2001, pp75-76). For example, concerning the ‘cause-effect’ and ‘dose-effect’ relationships between WBV and the negative-health of vehicle operators[1]. This ‘enigma’ has been further compounded by additional considerations such as operator general health and lifestyle; operator (driving) posture; and extent of vibration exposure (both in terms of magnitude and time); to cite but three examples.

Nonetheless, in spite of these apparent complexities, general consensus tends to agree that there is a cause-effect relationship between exposure to WBV and negative-health, which regarding the latter, normally manifests itself as low-back pain (LBP) (ISO, 1997; Palmer et al, 1999, p6; HSC, 2003, p149). Aside this cause-effect relationship between WBV and LBP, it should be pointed out that where an individual already suffers from LBP (for whatever reason), then exposure to WBV can ‘trigger’ an attack or aggravate this (existing) condition. In addition to LBP, many other medical symptoms are also associated with WBV exposure (BSI, 1987, pp1-3; ASOSH, 2004).

WBV is now considered such a serious occupational health hazard (especially with respect to LBP) that the European Community recently issued a health and safety Directive on it (EC, 2002). As a result of that Directive, the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations (CVWR, 2005) have more recently brought WBV (and its mitigation) into UK workplace health and safety statute. (The new Regulations also cover hand-arm vibration (HAV), but HAV is beyond the scope of this guide on WBV).

Against this backdrop of increased WBV awareness and more recently, its ‘formalisation’ under the umbrella of UK workplace health and safety law, this guide sets about explaining how these issues affect both employers and employees, who are ‘associated’ with vibration-emitting plant and equipment. In short, this guide provides a concise overview of current WBV knowledge combined with practical advice for meeting the requirements of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations.

[1] For ease of reading, the term operator should be viewed throughout this newsitem to include all forms of mechanised moving vehicle operator, including for example, plant operator, forklift driver, van and lorry drivers, excavator operators and so on.

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