Employees need to be secure in their workplaces since numerous safety hazards occur caused either by nature or human activity. Noise and vibration are among the substantial risks that lead to the formation of fundamental principles concerning labour safety, environmental care, and workers’ health at the workplaces. In fact, the state is responsible for taking the measures to assure the employees’ occupational safety. Some countries such as the members of European Union have regional blocks that make regulations to ensure the protection of health of the employees at work. Evidently, different quantities of noise and vibration affect health of the workers at various magnitudes. Therefore, various mitigating factors and preventive strategies are employed to reduce the risk of the hazard. Thus, this paper focuses on quantifying noise and vibration hazard as well as presenting the general preventive strategies to reduce its risk. In addition, four examples of the hazard will be provided and analyzed.
When the produced sound goes beyond the limit, noise occurs. The acoustic tones, machine noise, explosion, and other impact noise result in impaired hearing as well as affect health in general. Hence, the legislations in terms of the health hazards arising from noise have been adopted by many jurisdictions. They specify the maximum exposure to noise and vibration safe for the workers. Moreover, the measures also define the responsibilities of the employer to the workers exposed to that danger. Besides, the employers have the mandate of determining the best practices to manage the noise within the premises of their activities. Their research provides the necessary measures to be taken by both the employee and the boss to maintain healthy working conditions as well as attain the workers’ safety.
HGC has undertaken various researches to determine the noise and vibration levels in the industries and firms. The aim of these studies is to identify the useful techniques to be applied by the operators of the plants to reduce the noise providing the workers with the protective gear. Moreover, they centrally act during the formulation of legislations to ensure the formulated laws are effective in protecting the workers and controlling the hazards brought by noise and vibration.
Functioning of the Ear
Every sound wave consists of a series of waves. It is a fascinating mechanism where airwave transmissions are picked and processed by the ear in the hearing process. Through the auditory canal, the collected sound reaches the eardrum and causes its vibration. These vibrations get to the cochlea, the hearing part of the ear, where they are received and transmitted by the auditory bones. At the inner-ear, the minuscule hairs (hair cells) convert the mechanical waves into electrical impulses which are passed to the brain for processing into acoustic images.
Health Effects Following Exposure to Noise and Vibration
High decibel music and noise resulting from the traffic depress the hairs present in the hair cells making them less useful in conducting the sound. An explosion or many years of exposure to noise at the workplace may lead to malfunctioning of the hair cells. In addition, it is impossible to correct the destroyed hairs; therefore, the damage causes permanent loss of hearing. In addition, excessive noise may induce impaired hearing as most employees work in bustling places and get used to shouting during a conversation.
Furthermore, exposure to vibration damages the lower spine and other internal organs. According to Safety Institute of Australia, the body waves increase oxygen uptake and rate of respiration, which in effect causes changes in blood and urine. Moreover, it also leads to a feeling of dizziness, reduced performance, and motion sickness. In addition, prolonged exposure to vibration disrupts blood flow and oxygen supply. Hence, with persistence, reversible damage occurs to the vessels that eventually get worse to irreversible state. The use of vibrating hand-held tools can cause numbness in a short period of exposure due to their higher frequencies. On the long-run, vibration from the hand-held devices brings harm to the bones, joints, and tendons. As a result, the vibration white finger and the hand-arm vibration syndromes are among the major health conditions caused by vibration.
Controlling Workplace Noise and Vibration
HGC works to determine the levels of noise in the working environments and propose preventive measures. In every situation, they discuss the business requirements for limiting the sound as well as protecting the employees from excessive noise. A study in a work environment will define the best practices under that situation as well as assist the company in organizing the practical control methods. Identifying the workers’ exposure to noise requires determination of sound levels throughout the facility either over the grid or at the workstation of each employee. Besides, another technique consists in wearing a personal noise and vibration monitor by the employee for a period of time in such a way directly measuring the exposure levels.
Accelerometers and other specialized meters are used to gauge the degree of exposure to vibration in humans. It is measured in the X, Y, and Z directions at the point of exposure (contact) to the vibration. In fact, the certain standards for evaluating the intensity of vibration are anticipated in Australia for determining the exposure and setting standards acceptable for the workers. Through these various laws the “Guidelines for measurement and assessment of human exposure” which is ISO 201a,b. have evolved.
Preventive Devices to Noise and Vibration
In cases when the defined levels exceed the limit, a detailed report from the collected data is used to make the expert recommendation on noise and vibration controls. Moreover, the agency works in close relation to the manufacturers of noise and vibration control equipment enabling them to develop newer and more efficient technologies. The workers in the areas where noise goes beyond the limit need the supply of hearing protectors. In addition, the noise abatement from the source machine is another way to control the sound.
To mitigate the risk caused by the use of devices with vibration effect, the new models should have a proper performance and low vibration emissions. Smoothening of uneven surfaces leads to the reduction in the intensity of vibration. Additionally, the use of suspension seats adjusted to the driver’s weight attains minimum vibration. The utilizing of devices equipped with anti-vibration handles that are de-coupled from the vibration source replace the padded handles. Furthermore, some of the machines have auto balancers fitted to reduce the amount of vibrations. The operator using the equipment needs to cut on the grip and the force feeding the machine, which consequently lowers the force applied to the device.
Vibration white finger (VWF) is a common disease caused by extended exposure to continuous vibration also referred to as vibration syndrome. Pneumatic grinders, drills, and other hand-held industrial machinery lead to the numbness of the fingers. A GMB member from the Gateshead was awarded a substantial compensation after winning the court case against his employer. The condition had affected the man’s hand, wrist, and arm after the daily use of vibrating tools for a prolonged period. I was using hammer drills and other vibrating hand-held tools regularly at work. As I was driving home, I noticed my hands were feeling numb.
Following his diagnosis and refusal of the employer to take responsibility, the GMB member sought support from the industrial disease specialist team who took his case to the court. His company had neglected his reports despite many years of reporting numbness after work. His employer, however, argued that his condition was independent of the types of duties he regularly undertook in the organization. Following this case, the members’ business introduced a daily maximum exposure policy for the workers using the vibrating tools.
Therefore, to prevent such incidences in the future, the employers need to put in place mechanisms to regulate the employee’s exposure to excessive vibration. Labour laws should also be amended to cover the workers exposed and have proper guidelines for handling their cases. The organizations like the Thompsons Solicitors who are the experts in dealing with such issues should take it into consideration assisting the workers with injuries in receiving the compensations. Undoubtedly, such bodies need to be supported to help the affected individuals.
Industrial deafness is a condition resulting from exposure to loud noise at the workstation. Such cases were witnessed including the issue of Mr. Mullance who went to Thompson Solicitors to seek help on claiming the compensation. The client got deafened while working for a trading company for many years. She was exposed to a lot of noise that caused her ears to deafen and felt despaired of making a compensation claim. Moreover, the employer did not enquire on the condition of the worker after the termination of her contract. However, a compensation claim amounting to $9600 was reached after the joint work with the Amicus Union.
Mullance never realized her hearing was getting impaired since using a high tone when communicating with the colleagues at her workplace seemed obvious to her. The loudness continued even after work and she could attribute it to the normality at the workplace. However, after continuing in such a rhythm for an extended period she realized she was unable to hear quiet sounds. Reporting the condition to her employer, one did not address the concern while she hoped to get better. Finally, when she quit her working relationship, she was partially deaf and later the condition persisted to total deafness.
To handle such a case, proper shifting routines need to be implemented so that the amount of exposure is reduced and distributed equitably. A determination of the acceptable daily maximum exposure needs to be defined and practiced to reduce the chances of ear destruction among the workers. Lastly, the duration of time spent on a noisy sector is a crucial factor of the persistence that needs to be indicated to limit the stay of the employee in that section.
Another good illustration concerns the Amicus member who received a $10,000 claim compensation after suffering from noise-induced loss of hearing. The condition appeared after working for 35 years for a smelting company in Northumberland. The member, now aged 59, discovered the problem during an ordinary conversation that led him to realize the severe impairment of his hearing system. As he explains, “There was excessive noise at work; I could not hear myself think, though, I got used to it. I did not imagine the noise would have such devastating effects on my hearing. It is hard for me to listen to rational conversation particularly when there is a background noise”.
After 35 years of working for the smelting company, the Amicus member realized deafness was approaching. Though he can hear, his hearing is not clear and is difficult for him to listen to regular conversations. The company undergoes the compensation amounts from workers who have suffered from despaired hearing. Moreover, there is a possibility of the situation’s worsening with few hopes of getting the treatment for the condition. Though the doctors can improve the hearing through devices, rectifying the situation is not a guarantee.
An incident like this may result from an interplay of several factors including the length of time a worker has been exposed to the noise, the daily duration of exposure, and lack of using preventive measures by both the employee and the employer. Evidently, the task of determining the acceptable noise limit as well as availing the protective gear to the workers lies with the company. The organization takes the liability if neglecting of the employees’ health occurs. Finally, it is significant to take all measures to ensure the health of employees is guarded while working in noisy environments.
In this last example a hand-arm vibration syndrome will be presented. Like the vibration white finger, this syndrome affects people operating vibrating power machines. One of the victims of the hand-arm vibration syndrome is Janet Lucas. Before joining the National Coal Board, Lucas suffered from this disorder. Moreover, later he got the vibration white finger while working for the National Coal Board. Though he died before the compensation, his widow received it amounting to $6,671 after the Thompsons won the case.
There was an increased damage to Lucas hands, arm, and fingers. Initially diagnosed with the vibration syndrome, the condition hand-arm vibration syndrome continued worsening. Consequently, the man turned to be totally disabled before his demise with shaking limbs which could not hold a cup of tea. In addition, his whole body became weak and he could no longer cope with the simple tasks at home. The doctors failed in restoring his condition which they termed as permanent.
Undoubtedly, a proper education should be provided to the workers on the effects of the exposure to extreme vibration. Enlightening help in mitigating the risk factors and making the employees aware of what measures should be taken can significantly contribute to improving the situation. Moreover, to reduce the number of hours of exposure per day, the agreement should be established between the employer and the worker since they are both responsible for their health conditions. Once an employee is diagnosed with one of the conditions related to exposure to vibration, one should not continue working in similar circumstances. Instead, they can move to a different section or retire.
In conclusion, noise and vibration need to be evaluated and set to acceptable limits within the workplaces. The machines/production measures can be altered to reduce the amount of noise and vibration and avail protective gear to the workers to minimize the health risk. In fact, there are many health hazards associated with both noise and vibration most of which cause permanent damage. Moreover, proper legislations are necessary to protect both the workers and employers from unfavorable outcomes. Most of the employees working under such conditions are manual workers who might overwork without knowing since they are not too conscious of time. A shifting mechanism should, therefore, be affected to remedy the outcomes. Finally, the agencies fighting for the rights of the workers need to be strengthened as well as empower people to confidently access the legal systems for compensation.