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Vibration data still baffling contractors

With only three weeks to go before the new hand-arm vibration laws come into force, contractors are still confused about how tools can be used safely, according to suppliers and experts in the field.
Hirers have reported mounting concern that contractors are misinterpreting tool vibration data and therefore choosing inappropriate equipment.

As the Health and Safety Executive prepares to launch its own guidance at the end of the month, there are renewed fears that people are relying on vibration levels based on unrealistic laboratory testing rather than data from `real-life', site-based applications.

HSE vibration policy adviser Brian Coles warned: 'The ideal situation would be for all manufacturers to provide a range of field data for all applications. But we are some way off that, so you should ask your manufacturer how its measurements apply to your type of job.

'In our guidance, we will say that, if you are not certain, you should double the measurement.'

But particular concern has centred on the way contractors are using the `traffic light' tool labelling system devised by tool hirers' body the Hire Association Europe and the Construction Confederation.

The HAE's scheme bands tools into `green', `amber' and `red' risk categories, depending on the vibration levels provided by manufacturers. But hirers have warned that a number of contractors are taking blanket decisions on the basis of the traffic lights alone, rather than applying them to specific applications.

One tool hirer said: 'There is a lot of confusion out there. Some manufacturers are reporting different levels of vibration in different places. Meanwhile, some contractors are now saying, `We won't use any tools in

the red category', even though many of them are the best tools for the job, because that is a policy they have adopted across the board.'

Mr Coles cautioned contractors against a simplistic approach.

He said: 'Quite often good tools may be in the red category. It is not the case that you can't use them, the issue is, for how long? By its nature a breaker presents a higher risk. You want a quality product that will do the job quickly, but there will probably be some jobs where there are no `green' tools available.'

The HSE has a specialist inspector working with the HAE to look at further improvements to the traffic-light scheme.

Mr Coles said: 'We think the concept of a traffic-light system is good but we need to find a way of bringing in real-time measurement. We are building a database of typical field values, which we will put on our website, but the ideal would be to have a range of values for each type of tool and job. At the moment, some manufacturers are doing a lot while others are doing very little about it.'

He added: 'I understand the major contractors group is considering undertaking independent tests, which would be a good way to go.'

by Andrew Gaved

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