Until now there have been no specific laws to address the risks from vibration, though the general provisions of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 have applied, and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has issued notes on good practice to prevent and minimise risks.
The key change in the new regulations is the introduction of exposure action values (EAVs) and exposure limit levels (ELLs).
The EAV is a daily amount of vibration exposure above which employers are required to take action to control exposure. The HSE has advice on what this action could be, but basically calls for exposure to vibration to be reduced as far as reasonably practicable, and requires the employer to carry out 'health surveillance' of the employee. The ELL is the maximum daily amount of vibration an employee can be exposed to.
For hand arm vibration the EAV is an average daily exposure of 2.5m/s 2 and the ELL an exposure of 5m/s 2. These are low values and the permissible exposure duration increases exponentially with vibration magnitude, meaning that use and selection of many common site tools will have to change significantly.
For example, Loughborough University has shown vibrations from road hammers can vary from 5m/s 2 to 20m/s 2 or more.
Under the new regulations hammer tools would hit the daily limit almost immediately. In contrast a low vibration tool could be used for eight hours before the daily limit is reached.
The regulations allow for a transistional period for the limit value until July 2010.