If you are in the transportation sector or you employ workers whose job involves transportation, Musculoskeletal Disorders (“MSD's”) are an issue that requires special attention. Studies show that MSD's contribute to approximately 60 - 70% of lost time injuries among workers in the transportation sector.
The Centre of Research Expertise in the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders ("the Centre"), based at the University of Waterloo, in association with the Transportation Health and Safety Association of Ontario ("THSAO"), is conducting a research project into causes and prevention of MDS's among drivers. They held a one-day International Conference on April 12, 2007, which included industry leaders, researchers, management and union stakeholders, as well as experts from Holland and the United States.
The conference discussion groups were led by Ontario industry leaders and focused on identifying issues and challenges, while bringing a plethora of expertise, technical and regulatory knowledge to the table, with a goal of identifying preventative strategies. The material on this conference is currently under preparation.
Generally, injuries amongst transportation workers arise from tasks such as driving, loading/unloading, tarping, and securing. These tasks involve various ergonomic risk factors, including heavy lifting, pulling, pushing, reaching, and bending, combined with sitting in a static position for a prolonged period in a vibrating vehicle. Sudden shocks when travelling over rough terrain further increases the risk.
Whole body vibration syndrome has been found to result in numerous short and long term symptoms, including interruptions to circadian rhythms, increased heart rate, and disorders of the spinal, digestive, nervous and reproductive systems. As an employer, you should take the following steps to minimize the risk and effects of whole body vibration syndrome:
- Conduct a hazard assessment to determine if whole body vibration is a risk to your workers.
- Develop and implement a vibration control program. The program should include medical monitoring, exposure analysis, training and education on hazards, signs and symptoms, and control measures.
- Control measures may include limiting the time workers spend on a vibrating surface, implementing a work/rest schedule, mechanically isolating the vibrating source or surface to reduce exposure, inspection and maintenance to ensure that vehicles and equipment are well maintained to avoid excessive vibration, and installing vibration damping devices, such as air-ride seats and suspended cabs.
- ACGIH has developed threshold limits for vibration exposure. The most widely used document on this topic is the Guide for the Evaluation of Human Exposure to Whole Body Vibration (ISO 2631). These exposure guidelines have been adopted as ACGIH TLVs. A qualified vibration analyst can assist with evaluating your workers' exposure.
- Workers exposed to whole body vibration syndrome should undergo permanent medical surveillance. Pre-placement and periodic examinations are recommended, including a basic medical examination and an X-ray of the spine, at least of its lumbar part.
In British Columbia - OHS Regulation, Part 7, Division 2 prescribes limits and control measures. Most provinces do not have OHS legislation dealing specifically with vibration. Some have published bulletins on the subject. However, all jurisdictions have a general duty clause that requires an employer to take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers.