Blog Post #101 – Canada Day Blog 2011 – Ship Vibration A Real Pain For Vessel Workers

The union representing British Columbia ferry workers has voiced concerns that excessive vibration on board one particular vessel may be contributing to complaints of hip, thigh and foot pain among catering staff.

Richard Goode, a spokesperson for the B. C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union in Nanaimo, says some female catering workers on board the Coastal Renaissance ferry have reported pain. “Because they are working on tiled floors or porcelain floors, that vibration goes directly to them,” says Goode. “The problem is, a lot of times people don’t realize what’s happened to them,” he adds.

Short-term exposure of two to 20 hertz can produce abdominal or chest pain, headaches, nausea, loss of balance, muscle contractions and shortness of breath, says a fact sheet from the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers. Long-term exposure may result in spine-related problems, such as disc displacement, degenerative spinal changes, intervertebral disc disease and herniated discs.

The vibration is caused by the ship’s propulsion system and excessive shaking occurs when the system is used to push the vessel to dock, says Goode. When on open water, the Coastal Renaissance is “very smooth,” he suggests. The union is exploring the benefit of using anti-vibration mats or gel-filled insoles.

WorkSafeBC officers have not received any complaints from ferry catering workers, says board spokesperson Donna Freeman.

Some vibration issues on board B. C. Ferry Services Inc. vessels have been tackled, says agency spokesperson Deborah Marshall. “When we first brought the ships into service, we would operate with two propellers when the vessel was in dock,” Marshall explains. “We have changed our operating procedures now and we’re only operating with one propeller and that has reduced the vibration coming from the vessel,” she says.

Original article written by Dan Birch.

My opinion

As a trainer, and approved provider for WSIB in Basic Certification, Level 1 as well as Level 2, it never ceases to amaze me about the lack of information most companies have concerning ‘Physical Hazards’ such as:

1. Noise;
2. Temperature;
3. Radiation; and last but not least
4. Vibration.

Let us discuss vibration in more detail.

What is Vibration?

Vibration is a rapid alternating or reciprocating motion. It can affect all or part of the body. For example, driving a tractor over bumpy roads in a poorly designed seat vibrates the entire body. Prolonged use of a vibrating hand tool can affect the hands and arms.

What are the health effects of vibration?

The energy absorbed from vibration is absorbed by the tissues and organs of the body. Whole body vibration can lead to lower back pain. Hand-arm vibration causes damage to blood vessels, impairing circulation in the hand. This leads to a condition known as white finger, or Reynaud’s phenomenon.

What can we do to monitor vibration?

The evaluation of exposure to vibration is very technical. In general, the harm caused by vibration increases with its strength and with the duration of exposure. Exposure values have only recently been developed, and are intended primarily for use by experts equipped with sophisticated equipment.

How can we control vibration?

In normal situations, controlling vibration at the source might be by redesigning equipment to include vibration-absorbing mounts or shock absorbers. Older equipment can be replaced by newer vibration-free models. Controls along the path might include remote control systems to keep workers away from high vibration areas and at the worker one might include the suggestions made here for gel0filled insoles or other PPE that controls vibration.

In conclusion,

I feel Jason Contant’s report hit the nail on the head. One very favorable control is the use of the one propeller only. I feel that the B.C. Ferry Services Inc., with the support of the Union, are practicing ‘Due Diligence’ by looking for alternatives for a better workplace and not ignoring the evidence right in front of them.

More monitoring is needed and it looks like everyone involved is doing their part. I wish more companies would look into health and safety like this examples does.

By the way,


Remember — In Canada, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

Daniel L. Beal

CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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