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Vibration is a common and infrequently recognised cause of injury. It is an avoidable result of using many industrial tools such as chain saws, grinding, sanding, hammering or polishing tools.
Apart from general effects such as nausea, giddiness or an inability to focus, all caused by vibration to the entire body, it can damage nerves and blood vessels and deaden a limb such as fingers or hands in “whitefinger”. As the name suggests the first symptom is often a finger turning white and remaining in that condition, only gradually returning to normal. If it becomes established it is irreversible. In extreme cases gangrene will set in and require amputation of the affected limb.
Vibration can disrupt tendons and cause “carpal tunnel syndrome”. This results from nerve entrapment in the carpal tunnel in the hand, formed by the carpal bones. The tunnel encloses the median nerve and nine flexor tendons. If through injury, a swelling or reduction takes place in the tunnel, the median nerve will be adversely affected and cause a number of symptoms in the hand including numbness, tingling, burning, clumsiness and pain.
Vibration is best dealt with at the design stage of the relevant machine. Spring mounted handles on chain saws will virtually eliminate vibration dangerous to the majority of workers. Direct contact with the vibrating metal of the tool is the most obvious circumstance to avoid. Even a rubber or plastic grip will significantly protect the worker. If the machinery is badly designed, it should be replaced. At the very least, substantial rest breaks will delay the onset of the condition.
It may be easy to overlook the effects of travelling on a vehicle such as a tractor in the context of vibration. However, the jerking of the whole body and other movements transmitted to the body are a form of vibration, albeit at low frequencies.
In a study in 1960 of 371 tractor drivers, long periods of tractor driving over rough terrain was shown to cause stomach complaints and spinal disorders. There was a direct relationship between the severity of the complaints and the length of service of the drivers. Kidney damage was also indicated by the presence of blood in urine.