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Executive Hire Show Review:

Hirers play key role

The Executive Hire Show’s theme of working together was evident throughout the Health & Safety Seminar programme that ran concurrently with the exhibition. Nigel Strickland reports.

Health & Safety legislation has had a major effect in changing work practices. In turn, hirers can play a key role in helping the construction industry adapt, with appropriate advice and equipment. This was emphasised by Brian Coles, Noise & Vibration Policy Adviser to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in opening the seminar programme, organised by HSE and Hire Association Europe, and was reinforced by each speaker. Nick Patience, HSE Occupational Health Inspector, kicked off with a wide-ranging presentation covering various risks associated with kerb handling. He explained that occupational health is a huge issue with over 2m cases of work-related ill health documented in 2004/5. Managing the risk, rather than symptoms, was crucial.

Risk of injury through manual handling is being reduced by increased availability and use of vacuum lifts and mechanical grabs. The hire industry’s influence through customer education was clearly important. Manufacturers were also designing out risk by developing plastic and hollow products.

Regarding noise, such as can occur when cutting kerb stones, Nick Patience stressed the debilitating effect of noise induced hearing loss and outlined the upper (85dB), and lower (80dB), action levels specified in the Noise Regulations 2005. HSE is asking contractors to request accurate noise data when hiring equipment, to aid tool selection, along with hearing protection compatible with other personal protective equipment (PPE). He also discussed the issue of silica dust and outlined new Working Exposure Limits, as well as the need for dust extraction and water suppression for effective risk reduction, and the use of RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment).

Dr. David Smeatham, Noise and Vibration HSE Specialist Inspector, speaking on HAV Management in Construction, described the three medical conditions associated with long-term exposure to HAV. Vascular damage, where blood circulation to the fingers is disrupted, causes painful tingling and “white finger”. The second, and most debilitating, is damage to the nerves. Lastly, musculo-skeletal damage, similar to arthritis, affects joints, ligaments and can even cause muscle loss. Combine all three conditions and you have Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 put a duty on employers to perform four specific tasks: assess risk; provide controls; provide information, instruction and training; and finally check the effectiveness of these measures via health surveillance.

HSE views the provision of controls as the most important of the four, with eliminating the use of hand-held power tools the most effective. David Smeatham gave two practicable examples: using mini diggers fitted with hydraulic breakers instead of hand-held breakers, and eliminating the use of scabblers by introducing advanced shuttering technology. However, where the use of hand-held tools is unavoidable, HSE will look to employers to manage risk through correct tool selection and minimising exposure time. “It would be a mistake to opt for a low-vibration tool that was not powerful enough for the task, leading to prolonged exposure time,” he said, adding that choosing the correct tool was the most important consideration, even before examining vibration data.
HSE offers much information and advice on this subject at www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav/campaign/construction.

Employers have a responsibility to manage HAV risk by estimating the level of exposure and predicting tool usage time. Estimating both figures enables a 'dose' to be calculated. “All tool manufacturers must declare vibration levels, and we are in a transitional, but rapidly improving situation,” added David Smeatham, who praised industry associations generally, and the Off-highway Plant & Equipment Research Centre (OPERC) in particular, for providing vibration data.

Determining exposure time can be calculated by observing actual work practices. Equally the vibration level of a particular tool may dictate the working time it can be used in a day. By using a spreadsheet available from the HSE website, the working time and vibration levels for tools can be added to determine a dose, which is then compared to two values. The first, the Exposure Action Value (EAV), is set at 100 points; above this level, employers are obliged to minimise exposure, provide training and introduce health surveillance.

Later this year, all new tools must meet the limit values, and all existing tools must comply by 2010. However, although risk assessments determined whether you were over the EAV and under the 400 points (the absolute daily maximum any worker can be exposed to) of the Exposure Limit Value (ELV), the vitally important point was to determine what would be done to control risk. Hirers have an important role in educating users about risks, symptoms, control measures and correct use of tools. The importance of sharp points and chisels was highlighted, with blunt steels taking up to four times as long to complete a task, and increasing HAV exposure exponentially.

Planned fleet purchasing policies

Kevin Minton, Technical & Safety Support Officer with HAE, added to this presentation and highlighted the hire industry's role. He identified four key areas within hire where management of HAV could successfully be integrated. Starting with fleet purchasing, the creation of a planned purchasing policy, rather than one driven simply by demand, had clear benefits and gave management greater control. Buying highly efficient, low-vibration equipment was fundamental. However, he added that the increasingly technical nature of many tools, particularly those with anti-vibration technology, necessitated sourcing suppliers that provided appropriate maintenance advice and training. Good maintenance would instil confidence in construction customers that, when performing HAV risk assessments, the original manufacturer’s data would not have been compromised. HAV data from manufacturers showed there was greater commonality of testing methods, rendering independent testing less important, except in niche areas. Information given at the point of hire needed to recognise the broad spectrum of end users, with data on HAV provided in a variety of formats. Reflecting this, the HAE has helped to devise a new information system, improving on the current 'traffic light’ scheme. It will feature green, amber and red exposure times, with transitions based on the EAV and ELV, tri-axial vibration values, as well as carrying other relevant Health & Safety advice.

Reduction in falls from height injuries

Tony Almond, Communications Manager with the HSE's Falls from Height Team, reviewed the impact of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. He said that a reduction in fatalities and injuries was evident, although falls from height were still the biggest cause of fatalities and serious injuries. HSE was keen that the hire industry continued to improve standards in equipment, maintenance and information. (Work at Height is the subject of a dedicated Market Report in this issue of EHN.)

The final seminar, presented by Jim Maccall, Training & Development Manager of Brandon Hire, explained the new HireTrain scheme. Formed by HAE, with commitment and funding from CITB ConstructionSkills, it aims to represent all areas of the hire industry in the development of relevant training. It will create new qualifications, with hire companies able to participate in their development. A lack of training was holding the industry back and was a disincentive to potential employees.

“HireTrain will enable its members to reduce staff turnover, improve safe working and ultimately yield decreased costs and increased profits,” he contended. "As the hire industry becomes increasingly sophisticated, with supply chain management, key performance indicators and increased Health & Safety responsibility evident, the need for a smarter, better-trained workforce has never been more paramount."

By the end of the sessions, held on both days of the Show, a clear picture had emerged which supported Brian Coles’ opening comments. Recognising the importance of hire is a development that the entire industry can benefit from. Enhancing our dialogue with our customers, forming closer relationships with suppliers, and perhaps inviting the HSE to better understand the intricacies of hire, will undoubtedly benefit all stakeholders.

Executive Hire NewsArchivesMarch 2007Executive Hire Show Review › Hirers play key role

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