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BAM Nuttall targets vibrating tools

BAM Nuttall, the leading construction and engineering company is aiming to eliminate the use of rock drills, hand breakers and scabblers on its projects by the end of the year in a significant step towards improving workforce health and welfare.

Hand-arm vibration comes from the use of hand-held power tools and is the cause of significant ill health (painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints), and is a particular source of concern in the construction industry. Advice from the HSE says that whilst HAVS (Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome) is preventable, once the damage is done it is permanent.

BAM Nuttall believes that over the years people have underplayed the impact of vibrating tools on people in the industry.

“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,” says Divisional Director at BAM Nuttall, 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.”
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.”

While conceding that eliminating these tools would be very difficult, he says there needs to be a attitudinal change towards the use of vibrating tools by contractors, their workforce and manufacturers.

“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,” he says. “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 successfully trialled machines that significantly reduce Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome on a number of projects. A Positioner-Actuator-Manipulator (PAM) was used on its Heathrow Airport tunnels project. While a PAM OVE carrier, that makes overhead and vertical concrete chipping and drilling easier by reducing vibrations and operator effort, was used at Chswick Bridge.

“There has been very positive feedback around some of the new machinery we have been using recently,” says John. “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.”

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