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Industry 'must team up' to defeat hand-arm vibration

PLANT Conference highlights need for better training and removing risk by approaching tasks differently

DESPITE great strides being made by contractors, hirers and tool manufacturers over the last year, the industry needs to work more closely together to get a consistent approach to controlling hand-arm vibration.

That was the message from speakers at the Executive Hire News vibration conference last week.

Speedy Hire chief executive Steve Corcoran reiterated his call for contractors to request the safest, highest quality equipment, even though it will cost more. He said: 'We have a duty of care to get this right: it is an ethical and moral response.'

But experts warned that more effort needs to be made to avoid the risks of vibration altogether by approaching tasks differently.

Health and Safety specialist inspector Tim Ward said inspectors would be calling on site managers to justify extensive use of hand-held breakers, scabblers and combihammers (see page 22).

He said: 'If employers are to make any headway in reducing hand-arm vibration syndrome they have to look at eliminating risk or reducing it to as low as practicably possible.'

Delegates were also cautioned that the risk control message was not getting through to smaller companies, especially those who do not have their own full-time safety staff.

Speakers restated the need for independent vibration testing and simpler presentation of risk control measures in a bid to stop the onset of crippling disease. The HSE has set a target to have no new cases of disabling disease due to HAV by 2015, said vibration policy advisor Brian Coles.

'I don't think we can eliminate the early stages of hand-arm vibration, but we don't want it to progress to a more debilitating version, ' he said.

Contractors should be looking to design out risk from the process wherever possible said Balfour Beatty building and building management managing director Mike Peasland.

He said: 'No matter what the behaviour or culture instilled, people will still make mistakes, so we need to design, to eliminate or substantially reduce the risk of injury.

'As a design and build contractor we have much more opportunity to inf luence design and engineer out the problem' Among the methods Balfour has used includes use of hydraulic pile croppers, pre-chasing walls and using shotfiring instead of drilling.

He said: 'Safety is the most visible manifestation of quality, and we believe our strategy will help make us the employer of choice and in the long-term will help us win work.'

Balfour has implemented a comprehensive system of staff training and equipment selection based on the 18,000 tools it uses throughout the division.

He said: 'With the use of the correct tools we are never going to put operatives at risk. Independent site trials are fundamental to this strategy. We don't rely on tool manufacturers meeting some obscure European directive.'

The contractor is now in the process of training its labour-only subcontractors in controlling hand-arm vibration, and over the next 12 months will embark on ensuring that its 10,000-odd specialist subbies are trained too.

Mr Peasland said: 'It will be quite a task, but when they are on a Balfour Beatty site, we want them to work with our culture.

'Safety is an important part of managing the supply chain.'

HSE drives message home

THE HEALTH and Safety Executive is to mount a threepronged education campaign to improve control of handarm vibration in the coming weeks, targeting tool manufacturers, highlighting best practice in managing the risks and raising awareness amongst the workers themselves.

Vibration Policy Advisor Brian Coles said that HSE had written to 200 tool manufacturers and was proposing to visit as many as possible in the next few months in a bid to improve the information they provided with their tools.

He said: 'We want to see whether vibration information can be presented in a better way, and not just technobabble. The risk information must be simple and easy to follow.'

The HSE has selected 30 firms of varying size with the aim of getting the workforce involved in preventing HAV.

Mr Coles said: 'Unless you have workers that are trained, you are not going to get far.

They work with the tools every day and they will have a good idea of what works and what doesn't.'