It is not uncommon for employers to provide safety protections against falling hazards and exposure to dangerous materials but to fail to take into account for the potential dangers of long-term exposure to vibrations. While vibrations from equipment, such as saws, sanders, chipping hammers and other power tools may seem innocuous, they can lead to a number of medical conditions.
The two major types of vibration exposure are hand-arm and whole-body. Hand-arm exposure can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome as well as direct injury to the hand and fingers, and may cause damage that reduces an individual’s ability to feel and grip items. Whole-body exposure generally causes lower-back injury and pain, and it is often caused by construction and industrial vehicles, such as paving machines and forklift trucks.
The reason that vibrations can be hazardous to workers is that they can prevent a body from getting oxygen and nutrients to particular cells. When cells are deprived of nutrients and oxygen, tissue can end up damaged or even become necrotic. This process can take an extended period of time to show symptoms, in some cases taking up to 17 years. Additionally, although someone with hand-arm damage can often be diagnosed based on vascular and nerve damage components, it can be difficult to diagnose someone with whole-body vibration exposure since there is no visible damage.
Workers’ compensation is available to covered individuals who have suffered an on-the-job injury, even when they developed a condition over a period of time. Benefits include wage replacements and coverage of medical bills and treatments, and a lawyer can assist in filing a claim or having a denied claim reviewed.
Source: Occupational Health & Safety, “Vibration Hazards in the Workplace: The Basics of Risk Assessment”, Rob Brauch, Feb. 1, 2015