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Market Report: Power Tools

Hirers still have key role

There is now greater understanding of vibration risks, but hirers remain an essential link in the supply chain, providing advice as well as equipment.

Back in May 2005, when EHN produced its dedicated HAV Supplement, we reported on the considerable confusion and lack of awareness of the new Control of Vibration at Work Regulations and their implications concerning the need to recognise and control workers’ exposure to HAV. Some contractors seemed unwilling to talk about the subject, perhaps fearful of revealing information to competitors. Similarly, many manufacturers were reticent about the vibration levels of their equipment, particularly if old ‘dominant axis’ figures had not been replaced by the tri-axial data required under the Regulations. As we said then, the hire industry was in “an invidious position, finding itself between the devil and the deep blue sea”.

Today, however, there is much more information available, following ‘real life’ testing to BS 5349 by the Off-Highway Plant and Equipment Research Centre (OPERC) and the establishment of agreed European standards for the operated electric tools laboratory testing of major tool types (such as EN 60745 for hand-held motor). As we reported last December, HAV data sourced from the European Power Tools Association (EPTA) is now quoted alongside information on OPERC’s Havtec database, which also incorporates updated figures from a listing originally compiled by the HAE.

“This means there is now a single source of reliable data,” says OPERC’s Dr David Edwards. “There are now 13,000 registered Havtec users from all branches of industry, construction, local authorities, utilities and hirers. Information is available on a constantly growing range of tools and machinery. All interested parties need to work together to establish test standards for equipment not already covered by appropriate standards, such as certain types of surface preparation equipment.”

OPERC is also measuring used equipment to gain information on the difference in vibration levels compared against brand new machines. However, David Edwards says “the most important factor in reducing vibration exposure remains the training of the operator in correct usage. Furthermore, managers should focus on tool productivity rather than vibration per se, since a machine with a lower HAV level might need to be used for longer to complete a task, resulting in higher exposure. With proper practical measures and workplace health surveillance, HAV can be addressed before problems occur.”

The need for on-going management of HAV in the workplace is emphasised by Dr David Smeatham, who spoke on the issue in a seminar at the Executive Hire Show in February as an HSE Noise and Vibration Specialist Inspector, and who is now Manager of Planning & Strategy at the HSE’S Communications Department. “The landscape surrounding the subject has changed dramatically over the last three years. Much hard work has been done by all parts of the supply chain to provide reliable data on which risk assessments can be made, and initiatives for clearer labelling of equipment.

“From HSE’s perspective, it is obviously important that vibration data is available, but people must not lose sight of the need to implement controls. They must decide whether the use of hand-held tools can be eliminated by introducing other working methods, and if not, then workers’ likely exposure must be assessed and managed, with appropriate health surveillance.”

As a key link between suppliers and end users, hirers continue to have an important role in HAV management. While there is greater agreement, better data and deeper understanding of the issue, in many cases it will not be enough for managers and supervisors simply to obtain tool vibration figures and try to calculate workers’ daily exposure. Hirers can help them to see the wider picture by considering different techniques and the latest equipment that can promote better controls and reduce the risks still further.

Executive Hire NewsArchivesJuly 2008Market Report › Hirers still have key role

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