Researchers at Laurentian University are looking into ways to address health problems that miners can develop from being exposed to vibration.

This week, the province announced it's giving the university $110,000 to do the research as part of its review into mining safety.

The director of the Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health at Laurentian said miners are exposed to different types of vibrations, including movement when using drills

“It comes up through into the feet of the worker and the hands where they’re touching the drills,” Tammy Eger explained.

Tammy Eger

Tammy Eger is the director of the Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health at Laurentian University in Sudbury. (Centre for Research and Occupational Safety and Health)

The higher frequency vibration can cause hand-arm vibration syndrome, and can lead to permanent tissue damage in the hands and feet, causing extremities to turn white and feel numb, she said.

Eger said workers who have these symptoms should seek medical attention.

“There’s evidence to suggest within three to five years of exposure, some of that damage can be permanent where healing won’t be able to occur,” she said.

“[The] worst case scenario, you’ll have permanent loss of circulation to those digits where you won’t get blood flow [and] you can start to see skin damage where the skin tissues will start to die off.”

The funding will help researchers test different pieces of equipment, Eger said.

They are currently working with different manufactures to develop boots, insoles and mats to help avoid the condition by filtering out harmful vibrations.

Detecting vibrations using technology

Eger said an app for smartphones is also being developed to help detect whole body vibration.

It is being tested in partnership with researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia.

“You can put it on any machine that you’re concerned about whole body vibration and it will tell you for an estimated eight hour day, are you going to be exposed to vibration that would put you at risk for low back pain, neck problems [or] gastrointestinal problems,” she said.

“[It’s] really easy to use. If you’re in the red, it shows that there [are] potential problems. If you’re in the green, you’re good to go.”

Eger said field testing for the footwear products and app will start in early 2015.