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Validity and inter-observer reliability of subjective hand-arm vibration assessments

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Author: Coenen, P. · Formanoy, M. · Douwes, M. · Bosch, T. · Kraker, H. de
Source:Applied Ergonomics, 4, 45, 1257-1262
Identifier: 501501
Keywords: Workplace · Hand-arm vibration · Risk assessment · Validity · HARM · ICC · Gold · Machine vibrations · Occupational risks · Reliability · Risk assessment · Tools · Ergonomic assessment · Experimental protocols · Objective measurement · Subjective assessments · Ergonomics · Adult · Analytical equipment · Arm · Correlation coefficient · General device · Hand · Hand-arm vibration assessment · Human · Human experiment · Interobserver reliability · Male · Powered tool · Reliability · Vibration · Vibration measurement device · Worker · Work and Employment · Healthy Living · Resilient Organisations · WHC - Work, Health and Care SP - Sustainable Productivity and Employability · ELSS - Earth, Life and Social Sciences


Exposure to mechanical vibrations at work (e.g., due to handling powered tools) is a potential occupational risk as it may cause upper extremity complaints. However, reliable and valid assessment methods for vibration exposure at work are lacking. Measuring hand-arm vibration objectively is often difficult and expensive, while often used information provided by manufacturers lacks detail. Therefore, a subjective hand-arm vibration assessment method was tested on validity and inter-observer reliability. In an experimental protocol, sixteen tasks handling powered tools were executed by two workers. Hand-arm vibration was assessed subjectively by 16 observers according to the proposed subjective assessment method. As a gold standard reference, hand-arm vibration was measured objectively using a vibration measurement device. Weighted κ's were calculated to assess validity, intra-class-correlation coefficients (ICCs) were calculated to assess inter-observer reliability. Inter-observer reliability of the subjective assessments depicting the agreement among observers can be expressed by an ICC of 0.708 (0.511–0.873). The validity of the subjective assessments as compared to the gold-standard reference can be expressed by a weighted κ of 0.535 (0.285–0.785). Besides, the percentage of exact agreement of the subjective assessment compared to the objective measurement was relatively low (i.e., 52% of all tasks). This study shows that subjectively assessed hand-arm vibrations are fairly reliable among observers and moderately valid. This assessment method is a first attempt to use subjective risk assessments of hand-arm vibration. Although, this assessment method can benefit from some future improvement, it can be of use in future studies and in field-based ergonomic assessments.