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The pros and cons of hand arm vibration meters

Construction News looks at the relative strengths of two market leaders in measuring vibration exposure.

Construction has among the highest exposure rates of hand and arm vibration of any industry, which can lead to vibration white finger.

Since July 2005, companies have had to comply with the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, which require them to minimise and monitor exposure to vibration and ensure it does not exceed set levels.

Many firms use the Health and Safety Executive’s online calculator to work out how much exposure a worker has had by inputting the time spent using a tool in combination with the manufacturers’ information about the tool’s vibration levels.

But there are also tools on the market which measure an operator’s exposure to vibration.

Daily exposure data

One of these, the HAVmeter made by Reactec, magnetically attaches to a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that most manufacturers fit to their tools to provide information about the tool or to identify it when stolen.

The HAVmeter works out vibration exposure by measuring the vibration coming from the tool – using an accelerometer – and the amount of time the tool is used for. The data is stored in the HAVmeter and saved to an SD card when the HAVmeter is placed in its base station.

This data can be uploaded from the SD card to a computer and displayed using the firm’s online software. The operative can swap the HAVmeter between the tools they use during the day so it can calculate their cumulative daily vibration exposure.

Safety points system

The device also provides the operative with information on their vibration exposure using the Health and Safety Executive’s points system, which multiplies usage in minutes by vibration in metres per second squared. It also shows whether their level of exposure is green, amber or red.

Red corresponds to the HSE’s daily exposure limit of 400 points and amber represents the HSE’s 100 point exposure action value, which warns the operative that they need to do something to avoid breaching their daily limit.

“People are buying it for HSE compliance but also [for information about] tool utilisation and employee productivity”

Jim O’Hagan, Reactec

From January 2014, HAVmeter users will be able to attach a GSM mobile phone module to their base station to upload data to the web software automatically.

Health and safety staff will also be able to look at the information using an app or opt for text message alerts when operatives are going over their vibration limits.

As well as providing data on vibration, the HAVmeter also shows which tools are being used, for how long and by whom.

“People are buying it for HSE compliance but also [for information about] tool utilisation and productivity and employee productivity,” says Reactec managing director Jim O’Hagan.

An alternative way of measuring vibration exposure is by operatives noting the time spent using various tools and entering this into the HSE’s online calculator to work out exposure levels.

But Mr O’Hagan says this method “means you can have very inaccurate data” because operatives might estimate the time spent using the tool wrongly.

Key differences of the main competitor

The main competitor product to the HAVmeter is called the HAVi. Like the HAVmeter, it fits to the tool and displays the level of vibration to the operative on the HSE’s points scale and warns them when they reach their daily limits.

The big difference between the two is the price and that the HAVi’s readings are not saved to an SD card so have to be written down.

William Hare safety, health and environment director Brian Hughes, who has used both the HAVmeter and the HAVi, says another difference is that the HAVi requires users to input the manufacturer’s information about a tool’s vibration levels into it by hand before starting.

It also has to be reset when moved from tool to tool, so users have to manually add up their daily total exposure if using multiple tools.

He says HAVmeters “do what they say they will” but the kit is far more expensive than the HAVi. He says eight HAVmeters plus the base station cost about £6,000 at the time his firm bought them.

But Mr O’Hagan says eight HAVmeters and a base station would now cost about £3,000 and firms could also opt for training and software costing an extra £1,500.

A single HAVi monitor costs £54.95, according to the firm’s website, while six units with cases and 12 logbooks cost £480.

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