OBJECTIVES--To investigate the occurrence of disorders associated with the hand arm vibration syndrome in a large population of stone workers in Italy. The dose-response relation for vibration induced white finger (VWF) was also studied. METHODS--The study population consisted of 570 quarry drillers and stonecarvers exposed to vibration and 258 control stone workers who performed only manual activity. Each subject was interviewed with health and workplace assessment questionnaires. Sensorineural and VWF disorders were staged according to the Stockholm workshop scales. Vibration was measured on a representative sample of percussive and rotary tools. The 8 h energy equivalent frequency weighted acceleration (A (8)) and lifetime vibration doses were calculated for each of the exposed stone workers. RESULTS--Sensorineural and musculoskeletal symptoms occurred more frequently in the workers exposed to vibration than in the controls, but trend statistics did not show a linear exposure-response relation for these disorders. The prevalence of VWF was found to be 30.2% in the entire group exposed to vibration. Raynaud's phenomenon was discovered in 4.3% of the controls. VWF was strongly associated with exposure to vibration and a monotonic dose-response relation was found. According to the exposure data of this study, the expected percentage of stone workers affected with VWF tends to increase roughly in proportion to the square root of A(8) (for a particular exposure period) or in proportion to the square root of the duration of exposure (for a constant magnitude of vibration). CONCLUSION--Even although limited to a specific work situation, the dose-response relation for VWF estimated in this study suggests a time dependency such that halving the years of exposure allows a doubling of the energy equivalent vibration. According to these findings, the vibration exposure levels currently under discussion within the European Community seem to represent reasonable exposure limits for the protection of workers against the harmful effects of hand transmitted vibration.
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