The move to reduce the use of vibrating tools is designed to address the risk of employers contracting hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
“Many of these tools are really from a bygone age and have been part and parcel of every day civil engineering life and as an industry we’ve been slow to develop alternatives,” said BAM Nuttall divisional director John Heffernan. “Thirty years ago, white finger was not only considered an old man’s illness but also something of a badge of honour, especially in the tunnelling industry. Nowadays that is simply not acceptable.
“If we want to attract the best talent to our industry, while retaining those people we already have, then giving them the best working conditions is vital, and that means ensuring they remain healthy and can safely operate modern equipment that is truly fit for purpose.”
He said that the drive to eliminate the most harmful vibrating tools, while promoting innovative alternatives, echoes the recent industry stance on forward tipping dumpers following some high-profile incidents.
John Heffernan concedes that eliminating these tools could be a “hard nut to crack” but BAM Nuttall is focused on achieving this and recognises a series of steps needs to be undertaken.
At the most basic level there needs to be an attitudinal change towards the use of vibrating tools by contractors, their workforce and manufacturers, he said. “First we have introduced a permit system for the use of hand held rock drills, breakers and scabblers to highlight the need for our projects to exhaust all possible alternatives before using these tools, and then ensuring all the appropriate controls are in place,” says John Heffernan. “We have already seen a positive response from our people, with this initiative generating smarter ways of working which are not only less harmful but also more efficient.”
“Contractors and manufacturers alike need to find an innovative solution to the challenge. Sometimes it may seem impossible to find a quick solution but I think that we haven’t necessarily looked hard enough. One of the main purposes of the permit system is to incentivise this search for a better, healthier way of doing things. We need to think hard and not set ourselves up to fail. For example, we should be thinking about design regarding lack of space – particularly around temporary works – where there’s not much room so we struggle to use machines where the work should be done mechanically.”
BAM Nuttall has already trialled machines that significantly reduce HAVS risks on a number of projects. At its Heathrow Airport tunnels project it used a Positioner-Actuator-Manipulator (PAM), a patented support arm for supporting a range of air breakers and scabblers from STM Ltd. Powered by air over hydraulics, it offers fast, safe and consistent production and is designed to push the tool against the surface which reduces dead blow and hand arm vibration. [See our previous report on PAM here.]
Elsewhere, at Chiswick Bridge, BAM Nuttall used a PAM OVE carrier that makes overhead and vertical concrete chipping and drilling easier, by reducing vibrations and operator effort.
At Old Bond Street it used a remote-controlled Brokk 40 demolition machine.
“There has been very positive feedback around some of the new machinery we have been using recently,” said John Heffernan. “We have a duty of care to our current and future colleagues and we are determined to eliminate the worst of the handheld equipment by the end of the year. It’s a challenging task but we are determined to succeed and hope that the rest of the industry follows our lead.”