KANBrief 4/16

Vibration: who determines the criteria for the measurement personnel?

Vibration is a frequent hazard when work is performed with machinery. If employers are unable to determine observance of the statutory limits reliably, for example from manufacturers' data, measurements must be performed. Measurement is however not a trivial task, and the results depend among other things upon the skills of the personnel performing it. This raises the question of who is adequately skilled to perform measurements properly.

Vibration is frequently transferred to the human body through the ground or through hand-guided machines. It may lead to back pain, injury to the spine and joints, circulatory disorders, neurological diseases and other conditions.

Where vibration occurs at workplaces, employers in Germany are required under the Ordinance on noise and vibration protection (LärmVibrationsArbSchV (in German)) to assess the hazards that it presents to employees. This entails determining and assessing the exposure arising at the workplace. Measurements may have to be performed. The measurement instrument and method and the qualifications of the personnel performing measurement are crucial for robust measurement results.

What exactly is meant in this context by "skills"?
The equipment and methods used for vibration measurement are described in standards. The "LärmVibrationsArbSchV" states with regard to the qualifications of the measurement personnel that the employer may entrust the task of measurement only to individuals who possess the necessary vocational skills. The German TRLV Technical Rule on Noise and Vibration Part 2 (pdf, in german) lays down the essential requirements to be met by skilled persons performing vibration measurements. Certain areas are listed with which skilled measurement personnel must be familiar. The TRLV also makes reference to the possibility of attending suitable further training events in order to acquire the skills concerned. The specific content of such training measures is not regulated, however.

Chaired by a representative from the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the DGUV (IFA), DIN's "Qualification and assessment of personnel performing measurements" standards committee addressed this topic, and in 2012 began development of a German standard governing the qualifications required of personnel performing vibration measurements, including at workplaces. In principle, the German Consensus Statement (pdf) permits standards governing the qualifications of personnel performing measurements. Among the stakeholders in OSH, the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) was critical of the project from its inception, for example owing to the narrow reference to the TRLV technical rules.

Change in situation caused by new basis for assessment
The policy paper on the role of standardization in the safety and health of workers at work (pdf) was published at the beginning of 2015. In accordance with this paper, work items for standards are evaluated against a catalogue of questions. In the autumn of 2015, the BMAS asked KAN to review the work item governing the qualifications of measurement personnel.

For this purpose, KAN formed a working group comprising members of the stakeholders in OSH. The stakeholders were in agreement that companies were not adequately recognizing the hazard presented by vibration and that a general need for action existed. They also acknowledged the need for the qualifications of the personnel performing measurements to be specified over and above the requirements of the TRLV, and recognized the technical work of the OSH experts involved in drafting the standard.

However, they did not consider a standard to be a suitable form of document. In Germany, what precisely constitutes vocational skills in this context is determined solely by the state and the statutory accident insurance institutions. Furthermore, the standard would lead to pressure for certification of the vocational skills required by the TRLV. Such certification places an additional cost overhead upon the employer and is considered undesirable by the stakeholders in OSH.

A DGUV Principle is currently being drawn up for the purpose of defining the requirements concerning the vocational skills more precisely. The DGUV Principle will be available free of charge, and sends a stronger signal than a standard – an important argument, not least for the employees' representatives.

The standards committee agreed in September 2016 to implement the demands of the working group. For example, the standard should no longer describe further training measures, but only the knowledge required for reliable performance of measurement. References to the "LärmVibrationsArbSchV", the TRLV and to vocational skills should be deleted. The document should be published in the form of a DIN SPEC Technical Report. 

Dr. Anna Dammann