Whole body vibration in helicopters: risk assessment in relation to low back pain

Helicopter pilots are exposed to whole body vibration (WBV) in their working environment. WBV has been associated with low back pain (LBP) and helicopter pilots have a high prevalence for LBP compared with other professions. The aim of this study was to develop a test protocol for measuring helicopters with ISO 2631-1 and to perform a whole body vibration risk assessment based on the European Vibration Directive in a number of commonly used military and civilian helicopters. Both absolute values and individual difference in current helicopter types are of interest in order to evaluate the possible role of vibration in LBP in helicopter pilots. Methods: In operationally relevant maneuvers, six helicopters were tested. In order to standardize measurements, each continuous fl ight was split into 15 separate maneuvers. A model of a working day exposure pattern was used to calculate A(8) vibration magnitudes for each helicopter. Results: The vibration A(8) exposure estimates ranged from 0.32 – 0.51 m z s 2 2 during an 8-h working day A(8). This compares with EU and ISO lower bounds risk criteria of 0.5 and 0.43 m z s 2 2 A(8), respectively. Discussion: Despite the vibration levels being relatively low, helicopter pilots report a high incidence of LBP. It is possible that helicopter pilot postures increase the risk of LBP when combined with WBV. The test protocol used in this study could be generally applied for other rotary winged aircraft testing to allow for comparison of WBV results. Data from different flight phases could be used to model different exposure profiles.