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Most common occupational injury preventable

Hand-arm vibration syndrome is the most common occupational injury in Sweden and the Western World, and, unfortunately, it is often a chronic injury. But machines do not necessarily have to vibrate and cause injury. RISE has brought together a vast array of operators such as users, machine manufacturers, research centres, the labour market and legislators in a unique project: Zero Vibration-related Injuries, with the aim of developing new, non-vibrating technology.

Around 400,000 Swedes spend at least two hours every day operating vibrating machines. Many are afflicted with incurable nerve and vascular damage such as numbness, tingling and loss of manual dexterity. It can result in an inability to grip objects or sense how firmly an object is being held, as well as frequent fumbling. All of which may be highly disabling.

– “The Zero Vibration-related Injuries project has been running for 6 years and is now in the final stage of the third phase,” says RISE researcher, Hans Lindell. “It constitutes a substantial investment with a total budget of SEK 60 million. The aim is to use new technologies and knowledge to completely eliminate vibration injuries. Machines should not have to vibrate and injure people.”

The project was initiated when the stone industry requested help to reduce occupational injuries from vibrating machines used in the industry. 

– “Many stone industry workers have suffered vibration injuries, and the industry sought to affect a change and take responsibility for employees. In addition, they wanted to create the right conditions to facilitate recruitment of new employees,” says Lindell.

Vibration can be reduced in all machines

Vibration injuries arise due to the transfer of vibrations from the machine to the human body, where they damage organic tissue. Most vibrations are caused by rotating movements such as those employed when using an angle grinder or striking movements when using a hammer drill. Vibration can be reduced in all types of machines.

– “Unlike other work-related illnesses or occupational injuries, vibration injuries occur in numerous unrelated industries, such as the construction, automotive, steel, assembly, and dental industries,” says Lindell. “While other occupational injuries primarily occur in specific industrial sectors, for example, illnesses caused by asbestos or chemical health hazards. The advantage here is that the breadth makes the problem highly relevant, but it also makes it more complex. The machines include everything from small dental drills to industrial counterpoise machinery or construction machinery.”

We are working to create harmless machines from the start

Creating harmless machines from the start

Traditionally, the goal has been to prevent vibration injuries by limiting the time an individual may operate a vibrating machine. This is regulated at EU level but the rules are unfortunately not adhered to since they are difficult to enforce and control.

– “There are different approaches,” says Lindell. “We are working to create harmless machines from the start. The technology is fairly general but the scope of the vibration problem is extensive. The physics behind the vibrations are the same, but it must be possible to scale the solutions up and down.”

The EU standard ISO 5349 serves as the basis of all national legislation on vibration worldwide. It governs compensation and claim payouts related to vibration injuries.

– “We want to amend injury risk assessment so that the standard also covers high-frequency vibrations,” explains Lindell. “Today’s standard, which only covers vibrations with a frequency below 1,250 Hz, overlooks risks from machines that produce impacts and high rotational speeds, such as nut drivers and dental instruments. Multiple studies have indicated this for a long time, and we feel it’s important to push for the existing standard to be amended or supplemented. Doing so will allow users to set requirements for high-frequency vibrations and give manufacturers an incentive to reduce them. But it’s a big job.” 

Vibrations can be reduced to harmless levels

During the first phase of the project, prototypes were created for 5-6 individual machine types, which underwent laboratory testing. The results showed that vibrations can be reduced to harmless levels. In phase three, the new technology has been incorporated into production. For instance, all production line machines at Volvo Construction Equipment in Arvika have been replaced, and large numbers of machines at Ävja Stenbrott (part of the Benders Group) have also been replaced with the new lo-vibration technology.

– “Medical studies being conducted by Sahlgrenska University Hospital are expected to be concluded in November 2020. They have been postponed owing to the coronavirus pandemic, but we hope they will be completed according to plan,” concludes Hans Lindell.

Vibration centre (Vibrationscentrum)

When the project ends in December 2020, the initiative will continue within the Vibration Centre network, which will serve as a hub where companies and organisations can share knowledge and experience and receive assistance in various vibration-related issues.

Hans Lindell

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Hans Lindell


+46 70 780 60 02

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