February 2, 2023

NIOSH Evaluates Whole-Body Vibration Exposures Among Golf Course Employees

A recently published NIOSH health hazard evaluation report (PDF) found that workers employed at a golf course were exposed to heightened levels of whole-body vibration. The agency’s evaluation involved the observation of work processes, practices, and conditions at the golf course as well as confidential interviews with employees and measurement of their vibration exposures during two work shifts. Most of the interviewed employees reported experiencing pain and discomfort in their lower backs, with some also reporting shoulder, neck, and knee pain. The report notes that whole-body vibration may cause chronic effects to the spine and back.

“Whole-body vibration may act in combination with other work factors, such as prolonged sitting, lifting, and awkward positions, to cause increased risk of back disorders,” NIOSH’s report explains.

The golf course workforce comprised a 13-person maintenance crew plus one office clerk. The maintenance crew members’ tasks involved caring for the grass and trees in various areas of the golf course and mechanically raking the sand in bunkers or sand traps. They frequently operated groundskeeping equipment, tractors, and golf carts, which were the source of their vibration exposures.

Whole-body vibration measurement results showed crest factor ratios ranging from 12–34 for all job tasks evaluated by NIOSH. The crest factor identifies the extremity of the peaks in any phenomena that can be measured as a wave, including vibration; a crest factor of 1 indicates no peaks, which in this instance would mean no vibration. Vibration with a crest factor greater than 9 is potentially more harmful, the NIOSH report states.

NIOSH’s recommendations to reduce employees’ whole-body vibration exposures include for workers to avoid driving equipment on rough or uneven areas of the golf course, to take the shortest routes possible, and to drive at reduced speeds. The agency also recommended replacing equipment seats with seats designed to dampen vibration, reducing rough areas of golf cart paths, and rotating employees between job tasks. Finally, NIOSH urged the employer to establish a health symptom reporting procedure and encourage employees to seek evaluations from healthcare providers.

More information can be found in NIOSH’s full health hazard evaluation report (PDF).