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Ruling out vibration

News analysis - New regulations to curb hand arm vibration came into force this week with major implications for designers and contractors. Mark Hansford reports.

Ignore the new Control of Vibration at Work Regulations at your peril, construction lawyers have warned.

Those who do will most likely find themselves paying towards the £9bn a year liability bill arising from suits for hand arm vibration related injury.

The regulations that came into force yesterday (6 July) implement the European Physical Agents (Vibration) Directive. They impose significant additional duties on employers to protect employees exposed to the risk of vibration at work, in particular hand arm vibration (see box).

More than two million workers use tools that put them at risk of developing hand arm vibration, and over 300,000 cases of vibration injury have been reported since the phenomenon was first recognised.

Compensation costs are huge.

'Claims vary widely. Taking an average fi gure of £30,000, the total compensation that could be due to the 300,000 workers who have already reported handarm vibration would be in the region of £9bn, ' says industrial injury specialist David Wiggs at solicitor Vizards Wyeth. 'This fi gure takes no account of legal costs and future claims, which can only serve to add billions to the outlay of employers and insurers.' ontractors, as direct employers of those exposed to vibration risk, are first in the firing line. But the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is in no doubt over who can do most to prevent this crippling condition.

'The biggest effect you can have is to remove the need for vibration in the first place.

What a designer can do is find a way of doing the job without vibration, ' says HSE specialist inspector for noise and vibration Chris Nelson.

'This is their responsibility under CDM.

'Where exposures are high there is not much you can do on site other than maybe buying a lower vibration tool or to restrict use.' But if this happens 'it will simply become uneconomic to do the work', states Nelson.

'The best way is to re-engineer the job.' Suggested methods of eliminating or substituting the hazard include far more off-site prefabrication. The HSE is to publish a series of case studies highlighting what can be done.

It is also to target clients, particularly local authorities. 'Our strategy is to work with local authorities to improve the way work is specified. The worksheet for the subcontractor should be traceable right back to the client and designer, ' says Nelson.

The HSE is also encouraging workers and trades unions to challenge employers and ask if the job could be done in a different way without using vibrating tools and machines.

Contractors have already made strides towards limiting their liability under the new regulations by challenging manufacturers to come up with more realistic vibration data on their tools (News last week). Many manufacturers claim lower vibration levels than their tools actually deliver, a claim now exposed by Loughborough University (see charts).

The HSE advice is clear: 'If the only information available to you is the vibration emission declared in the equipment's handbook, it may be safer to double this fi gure before using it for estimating daily exposures.'

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