Human Vibration Exposure
NAVAL SUPPORT FACILITY INDIAN HEAD, Md. (Nov. 12, 2020) U.S. Army Lt. Col. Tiffany Dills, assigned to Joint Task Force Civil Support, breaks through concrete using a jackhammer during chemical, biological incident reaction force training at Naval Support Facility Indian Head, Stump Neck Annex, Md. Nov. 12. The Army Public Health Center’s new Human Vibration Exposure Directory can help industrial hygienists and safety personnel identify human vibration exposure risks for all kinds of tools and vehicles. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael H. Lehman/Released) (Photo Credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Lehman)

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Army public health experts have created a new on-line resource for workplace vibration exposure measurements to help track any potential hazardous vibration exposures at installations around the globe.

The online resource provides industrial hygiene and safety personnel the ability to search and identify equipment at their installation or deployed area which has been previously measured for vibration exposure values, said Steven Chervak, an ergonomist with the Army Public Health Center and creator of the Human Vibration Exposure Directory, or HVED.

“If the equipment has been previously measured and recorded, the IH or safety personnel will be able to determine if the employee’s exposures warrant further investigation or if the data can be used to provide an exposure assessment,” said Chervak.

The exposure assessment can then be added to the Defense Occupational and Environmental Health Readiness System – Industrial Hygiene, or DOEHRS-IH, which allows the Department of Defense to manage occupational and environmental health risk data and actively track biological, chemical and physical health hazards to service members worldwide.

Chervak says the HVED is the culmination of years of work and will be a game changer in helping to reduce vibration related musculoskeletal injury. He got the idea after observing numerous installations where Soldiers and Civilians had been exposed to both hand-arm vibration, or HAV, and whole-body vibration, also called WBV. Prolonged occupational exposure to vibration is a risk factor for multiple musculoskeletal disorders.

“I would ask the occupational safety and health assets if the workers had ever had exposure measurements made on equipment they use,” said Chervak. “The answer was almost always no and reasons ranged from lack of access to the measurement equipment, lack of expertise in how to and when to make measurements or lack of time to devote to taking the measurements.”

Vibration exposure levels are currently tracked in Europe, but tracking is not required in the United States. Chervak says he got the idea for the HVED while working at Public Health Command Europe.

“I noticed that the IH office had the equipment for making measurements, but no one had been trained on how to use it or how to determine if a measurement was needed. This is a huge gap in determining a worker’s well-being.”, said Chervak. “While working in Europe, I found that several countries (Great Britain, Italy and Sweden) have their own directory of tools’ and vehicles’ vibration levels that have been measured in the field,” said Chervak.

Chervak realized that the Army could follow a path similar to Europe and create a sharing mechanism where HAV and WBV data could be made available to locations that did not have the equipment or expertise to make their own measurements.

“I have been measuring exposures for the last 15 years and I felt that I should be able to share the data I’ve collected with my colleagues via a similar on-line resource,” said Chervak.

Exposure to WBV and HAV has both health and performance concerns, said Chervak. HAV performance effects include loss of grip strength and dexterity. HAV health effects include vascular, neurological and muscular disorders such as Raynauld’s phenomenon, hand-arm vibration syndrome, vibration induced white finger, and traumatic vasospastic disease. Carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis have also been linked to HAV exposure.

Chervak says WBV performance effects include fatigue, visual/motor accuracy and attention deficit.

“The most common health effect of exposure to WBV is damage to the spine which can manifest itself as muscular back pain, spinal deformation or sciatica,” said Chervak. “WBV can also cause stomach problems, headache, and loss of balance, circulatory, bowel and respiratory issues.”

Chervak says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has voluntary standards for both HAV and WBV. Additionally, the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists has Threshold Limit Values and the DOD has Military-Standard 1472 H (Design Criteria Standard for Human Factors). All of these standards agree on occupational exposure limits that should be followed to insure a safe work environment.

The DOEHRS system currently lists 5,500 vibration exposure hazards, but until the implementation of the HVED, there was no way to search the exposure measurements for active hazards, said Chervak.

“Within DOEHRS you can only see your location’s data,” said Chervak.

“So, If I am an IH at Aberdeen Proving Ground, I can’t see if a similar work process at Fort Meade has measurements associated with it. This is the beauty of the HVED; everyone can see what others have measured. It really is a force multiplier when it comes to vibration data measurements.”

Chervak says the HVED has been in development for nearly two years and has one year of project funding remaining. The searchable directory contains vibration threshold information for various types of tools and vehicles.

“I hope the Safety and Occupational Health community will use the directory to improve their installations’ DOEHRS data, and contact me if there is equipment that their workers use that should be added to the directory,” said Chervak.

Chervak said if any installation IH or safety personnel are concerned about the HAV or WBV exposures of their personnel, he has the ability and funding to come on-site, measure their equipment, and record the findings in HVED.

Industrial hygienists in the field are looking forward to the opportunity to use the new database.

“Data in the HVED will allow IHs to prioritize the severity of vibration exposures at our installations and determine a path forward for evaluation and control,” said Nora Czar, an industrial hygienist with Public Health Command Europe.

The HVED directory can be found here. The Army Public Health Center has a website where you can learn more about human vibration exposure.

The Army Public Health Center enhances Army readiness by identifying and assessing current and emerging health threats, developing and communicating public health solutions, and assuring the quality and effectiveness of the Army’s Public Health Enterprise.