Injuries caused by whole-body vibration (WBV) do not get the attention they deserve in California and across the country. Employers are responsible for protecting the health and safety of workers. However, they must also inform employees of all the known safety hazards they might encounter, such as WBV.
Who is at risk?
Employees whose jobs include frequent driving or operating trucks, tractors, buses, forklifts and other heavy equipment risk whole-body vibration. Furthermore, workers who stand on surfaces that vibrate due to heavy equipment operation could also experience WBV. Reportedly, it affects over six million workers nationwide, and various low back injuries have been linked to it. Interestingly, national and international safety authorities indicate that WBV could also cause motion sickness, fatigue and damaged vision.
How do employees experience WBV?
Drivers and equipment operators who sit in seats experience the vibration as it transmits from the floor, through the seat and then into the thighs and buttocks, ultimately causing vibration throughout the entire body. Standing workers experience the vibration from the floor, through their feet and legs, and then into their bodies.
Matters that affect the severity of the vibration include the frequency, magnitude, direction and duration of the exposure. What makes WBV particularly dangerous is that the body amplifies the vibration because the frequency of the vehicle’s vibrations is often at 4-8 Hertz, where human resonance occurs.
Employers can minimize the vibration levels by various administrative controls. Although employees in California who suffered work-related injuries are typically eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, WBV causes progressive health damage. For that reason, employers must ensure workers at risk of WBV are aware of it to keep a lookout for symptoms and seek medical care as soon as possible.