Just like office workers, many workers in the construction, agricultural and mining sectors spend large parts of their day sitting down – although instead of hunching over a computer, they are strapped into the cabin of a machine. We’ve long recognised the important of providing quality seating for office workers, but for workers spending hours in machine cabins, seating is even more important, not only for comfort reasons, but because of the risk of vibration-related health problems.
Let’s take a look
The Risk of Vibration
As anyone in the industry knows, a lot of heavy construction machines produce powerful vibrations when used. While these machines are designed to deal with constant vibration, human bodies just aren’t. When humans operate this machinery they experience what’s known as Whole-body Vibration (WBV).
The effects of long term exposure to WBV are currently not well understood. However we do know that constant vibration is bad for us because the link between long-term use of hand-held vibration tools (like jackhammers) and Reynaud’s Phenomenon is well established.
Raynaud’s phenomenon also known as ‘white finger’ is the result of damage to the arteries in the hands. It causes fingers to turn white (hence the nickname) when exposed to cold and it can, in rare cases lead to skin ulcers, gangrene and even amputation.
According to Safe Work Australia, long-term exposure to WBV may cause:
- Neck and shoulder problems
- Herniated discs; and
- Early degeneration of the spine
Plus exposure to WBV may contribute to other health effects including:
- Digestive problems
- Reproductive organ damage; and
- Cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological changes
While more research needs to be done to establish links between WBV and various ailments, the fact that WBV is a genuine problem is widely recognised.
But Does Seating Really Make a Difference?
While numerous factors come into play when you look at reducing WBV, Safe Work Australia clearly states seating can make a difference. In their guide to managing WBV, one of their risk mitigation recommendations is to ‘install seats on mobile plant that are designed to minimise vibration’.
Across the globe, Work Smart UK agrees, stating “back injury is significantly more likely among workers exposed to WBV if they are using unsprung seats. Damped seats reduce the risk of spinal damage”.
The views held by safety authorities on this issue are based on science. Here are two examples below:
- A study published in The Journal of Sound and Vibration in 2002 found that “the severity of whole-body vibration exposures in many work environments can be lessened by improvements to seating dynamics”.
- A 2010 study looking at tractor seat design found that the type of cushioning material used in tractor seats “plays a dominant role in supporting operator posture [and] isolating vibration”.
How Do You Know if you’re Buying Quality WBV-protective Seating?
The type of seating appropriate for the job will obviously be determined by the type of machinery being used and the level of vibration the machinery produces. SafeOperate is the only commercial company in Australia which offers seat vibration testing. At The Seat Shop we work closely with SafeOperate to ensure the seating we provider offers high levels of vibration protection. The level of seat vibration can be tested by attaching devices called accelerometers to the seat and collecting the data produced.
To find out more contact The Seat Shop today.