Controlling Risks From Exposure to Vibration - Guidelines

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1.0 Purpose and Scope

The purpose of this guideline is to offer advice regarding the management of musculoskeletal disorder risks, hearing and visual impairments associated with vibrating tools, equipment, or vehicles. This guideline applies to all workers and students using vibrating tools, equipment and vehicles.

2.0 Process and Key Controls

The University is aware that vibration is an identified risk factor for musculoskeletal disorders, visual and hearing impairments and offers guidance for workers and students on the effects of vibration on the body and how to manage their exposure to vibration in the workplace.  Where exposure to vibration cannot be eliminated, other controls should be utilised in order to minimise the effects of vibration exposure.

3.0 Health Effects of Vibration Exposure

Vibrating tools, equipment and surfaces transfer vibration into the body, creating mechanical oscillations of the musculoskeletal system. Vibration generates minute muscle reflexes, increases respiratory rate, heart rate and perceived exertion. Vibration can also impair the input of visual information, the output of information through muscle movements or the central processes that relate input to output (i.e. learning, memory, decision-making). Vibration-induced health conditions progress slowly; symptoms may not develop until after months or years of repeated exposure.

3.1 Whole-body vibration

Whole-body vibration (WBV) involves very small, frequent, repetitive movements within the spine and associated muscles. Whole-body vibration is most often associated with driving vehicles, i.e trucks, tractors, ride-on lawn mowers, all-terrain vehicles, etc. Prolonged exposure to whole-body vibration may lead to the following symptoms:

  • back pain and general muscle pain,

  • decreased circulation to lower limbs, numbness and tingling in feet and legs,

  • headache,

  • increased heart rate, oxygen uptake, respiratory rate,

  • shakiness,

  • fatigue,

  • insomnia,

  • stomach and bowel problems,

  • reduced hearing ability due to disturbances of vestibular system within the ear,

  • visual impairment.

For additional information on whole-body vibration, refer to the Safe Work Australia publication,

Whole-body vibration Information sheet

3.2 Hand-arm vibration

Hand-arm vibration involves very small, frequent, repetitive movements within the upper limbs and is common when using powered hand tools such as drills, sanders, jackhammers, grinders, mixers, vortex machines, etc. Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) may develop after prolonged exposure to vibrating hand tools and is characterised by the following symptoms:

  • spontaneous occurrences of whitening (blanching) of one or more fingers when exposed to cold,

  • tingling or loss of sensation in the fingers,

  • loss of light touch,

  • pain and cold sensations between periodic episodes of white finger,

  • loss of grip strength,

  • bone cysts in fingers and wrists,

  • arthritis in hand and/or wrist.

Transmission of vibration from the tool to the hand(s) increases with grip force. Vibration-induced White Finger (VWF) is a health condition common among operators of hand-held vibrating tools and is characterised by permanent reduced circulation to one or multiple fingers and/or thumb.

For additional information on hand-arm vibration, refer to the Safe Work Australia publication,

Hand-arm vibration Information sheet

4.0 Managing Exposure to Vibration

Vibration-induced health conditions progress slowly, and vibration exposure can be effectively managed and reduced through implementation of appropriate controls.

In order to minimise or eliminate exposure to vibration, consideration must be given to:

  • controlling vibration at its source,

  • interrupting or severing the path of vibration to the worker,

  • reducing vibration at the position of the worker.

Where it is not practicable to alter work practices in order to eliminate exposure to vibration, tools, equipment and vehicles designed to reduce vibration levels should be used in preference to other equipment.

4.1 Safe work procedures

Control measures introduced to reduce exposure to vibration should follow the hierarchy of controls outlined in the Hazardous Manual Tasks Code of Practice (2011) and may include the following:

  • use other work methods without or with less exposure to vibration,

  • mechanically isolate the vibration source from the worker,

  • install vibration dampening materials,

  • ensure equipment is well maintained to avoid excessive vibration,

  • limit duration of work involving vibrating tools or surfaces,

  • avoid continuous exposure by taking rest periods,

  • wear sufficient clothing, including gloves, to keep warm,

  • educate workers about the risks of vibration,

  • consult a doctor at the first sign of vibration disease.

4.2 Vehicles

Some tractors and farming equipment are fitted with enhanced suspension, suspended vehicle cabins and operator seats incorporating their own suspension systems that reduce vibration and transference to the worker.

Equipment should always be used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions to limit vibration including:

  • inflate tyres to correct pressures.

  • operating at or reducing suggested speeds.

  • ensure suspension systems are working effectively and vehicle maintained correctly.

  • correctly position and utilise backrests and lumbar supports.

4.3 Equipment and tools

Vibration levels increase as the tool ages and wears, so tool maintenance is a key factor in minimising vibration. Lubrication of mechanisms and periodic replacement of shock absorbers will reduce vibration levels closer to those of when the tool was new.

Successful reduction of hand-arm vibration usually requires a combination of controls and may include:

  • use tool stands or isolated handles,

  • use internal dampening hand tools,

  • rest the tool on the work piece whenever practical,

  • use pressure gauges to ensure pneumatic equipment is operating at correct pressures,

  • employ a hand grip consistent with the safe operation of the tool or process,

  • use slip resistant surfaces, including tool handles to reduce operator force exertion,

  • use tools with speed adjustment and automatic shut-offs,

  • replace wearing parts including seals, bearings, shock absorbers, etc.,

  • refrain from using faulty tools,

  • maintain properly sharpened cutting tools.

4.4 Vibration-absorbing materials

Use of vibration dampening gloves may reduce transference of vibration from the tool through the hand and arm. Some seat cushions or tractor/vehicle seats may be replaced with or retrofitted with vibration dampening materials.

Machinery can also be positioned on vibration isolating mounting points or work platforms fitted with suspension systems.

4.5 Worker Education

Educating workers of the effects of vibration and exposure control measures should help workers to adopt safe work practices and ensure proper maintenance of tools and equipment.

Vibrating equipment and machines often produce loud noise, dust or moving particles so education should focus on controlling exposure to vibration, noise, dust and particulate matter. Studies have shown that exposure to hand transmitted vibrations can exacerbate the effects of noise on hearing.

Please refer to the University's Hearing Conservation Policy and Guidelines (PPL 2.60.04) for further information on controlling noise exposure.

Eye protection should be worn when work involves risk of flying debris or dust. A face mask or respirator may be required when work creates dust or particulate matter.

Refer to the Personal Protective Equipment and Minimum Standards Dress Policy (PPL 2.30.05) for further information regarding appropriate personal protective equipment.

5.0 Roles, Responsibilities and Accountabilities

Supervisors are required to ensure training in safe use of vibrating tools or equipment is provided to workers or students working with vibrating equipment or tools. Refer to UQ HSW training web page: and UQ Training Needs Analysis Checklist for recommended training.

Work health and safety coordinators may be able to provide advice to minimise exposure to vibration with consideration to the hierarchy of controls and can request further assistance or advice from the UQ Occupational Hygiene team or Ergonomics & Rehabilitation Advisor.

Workers have a responsibility to report any symptoms that may be related to vibration and to comply with any reasonable instructions or advice to minimise exposure to vibrating tools or equipment.

6.0 Appendix

Musculoskeletal disorder - sprain or strain to soft tissues of the body, including nerves, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and intervertebral discs. Examples: back pain, sciatica, neck strain.

WBV - Whole-body vibration.

HAVS - Hand-arm vibration syndrome.

VWF - Vibration-induced white finger.

Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael
Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael