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'Unbelievable' vibration claims threaten use of hand-held tools


CONTRACTORS FEAR they will breach European safety laws if they keep using certain hand-held power tools after 5 July.

They accused manufacturers this week of making 'unbelievable' claims about low vibration levels and called for new independent tests to verify safety claims.

Tougher limits on vibration from hand-held tools are set in the European Physical Agents (Vibration) Directive, to be adopted by the UK on 5 July (News last week).

'The vibration level claimed by some companies is so far from the truth it's unbelievable, ' said Mark Owen, member of the Major Contractors Group (MCG) health and safety working party.

'The reality is that it is practically impossible for anybody in real life to meet the regulations. It will be a job to get work done.' Prolonged use of high vibration tools like power drills carries the risk that operators will sustain hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). This can cause loss of sensation in the arms and can even lead to gangrene in the worst cases.

The MCG has discovered that hand-held tool vibration levels are often six times higher in practice than claimed by manufacturers.

They fear that unless manufacturers can prove their tools comply with the new law, they will be unable to carry out some types of work involving drilling or grinding.

At present there are no specific legal limits for exposure to vibration.

The new regulations set a daily exposure limit of 5m/s 2 of vibration. On paper most tools will comply with this, and most manufacturers test their tools to BS/EN 50144 themselves under laboratory conditions.

But academics at Loughborough University have questioned this practice, claiming that vibration levels are six times higher on average if tested in a real-life simulation rather than laboratory conditions.

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