Work ability in vibration-exposed workers
Background Hand–arm vibration exposure may cause hand–arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) including sensorineural disturbances.
Aims To investigate which factors had the strongest impact on work ability in vibration-exposed workers.
Methods A cross-sectional study in which vibration-exposed workers referred to a department of occupational and environmental medicine were compared with a randomized sample of unexposed subjects from the general population of the city of Gothenburg. All participants underwent a structured interview, answered several questionnaires and had a physical examination including measurements of hand and finger muscle strength and vibrotactile and thermal perception thresholds.
Results The vibration-exposed group (47 subjects) showed significantly reduced sensitivity to cold and warmth in digit 2 bilaterally (P < 0.01) and in digit 5 in the left hand (P < 0.05) and to warmth in digit 5 in the right hand (P < 0.01), compared with the 18 referents. Similarly, tactilometry showed significantly raised vibration perception thresholds among the workers (P < 0.05). A strong relationship was found for the following multiple regression model: estimated work ability = 11.4 − 0.1 × age − 2.3 × current stress level − 2.5 × current pain in hands/arms (multiple r = 0.68; P < 0.001).
Conclusions Vibration-exposed workers showed raised vibrotactile and thermal perception thresholds, compared with unexposed referents. Multiple regression analysis indicated that stress disorders and muscle pain in hands/arms must also be considered when evaluating work ability among subjects with HAVS.