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UK designers face injury claims when EU vibration directive comes into force


NEW REGULATIONS to cut vibration-induced injuries in the construction industry could expose consultants to a £60M liability, a leading tool manufacturer has warned.

Power tool manufacturer Hilti said consultants were unaware that the UK's adoption of a European Directive this July will make them responsible for controlling the spread of a condition that already affects about 2M people in the UK.

Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) results from the use of hand-held breaking tools and the number and cost of claims is rapidly spiralling upwards.

The most well known form of HAVS is vibration white finger (VWF). Since 1998 the number of people in the UK with advanced stages of VWF has soared from 36,000 to 300,000.

Last year 3,000 construction claims were settled with an average pay-out of £20,000.

In the UK, piles have traditionally been trimmed using hand-held breakers. In recent years, firms have endeavoured to restrict this type of work, leading to increased use of excavator-mounted hydraulic breakers and the development of pile breaking systems such as the Elliott Method (GE November 1999).

And while there are no specific legal provisions requiring control of occupational exposure to vibration in the UK, this will change on 5 July when the European Physical Agents (Vibration) Directive comes into force.

Although the directive puts the onus on contractors by setting strict exposure limits for their employees, the UK is putting more emphasis on designers by implementing the directive through the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and by revising current guidance.

'HAVS is on the Health and Safety Executive's list of priorities for clients and designers, ' said Hilti product manager Walid Hussain.

The fi nal guidance is not published until next month, but draft guidance published for consultation in November 2003 said designers should take responsibility by 'designing out risk'.

An HSE report into the underlying causes of HAVS, carried out in 2003 ahead of the consultation, said: 'Designers should be targeted to encourage them to eliminate or substitute the hazard and thus reduce both the time of exposure and the level of vibration.' Mark Hansford

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