Work up good vibrations

Fareham Borough Council is protecting its frontline workers against harmful vibrations - a measure that will soon be mandatory for all local authority vehicle operators.

Local authorities must soon comply with legislation that protects employees from over exposure to harmful vibrations from vehicles and machines. Termed whole body vibration (WBV) and hand arm vibration (HAV), the regulations are part of The Control of Noise & Control of Vibration Regulations (2005), a new EU-wide directive.

The problem of WBV and HAV occurs when people are continually exposed to the vibrations of equipment and vehicles as part of their role - this includes refuse trucks and road sweepers. The impact on local authorities is twofold. Firstly the health of employees, as WBV can cause health risks with regard to the neck, arms, shoulders, back and even major organs. Secondly, any implications to employees' health could lead to legal action against the employer.

One of the first local authorities to embrace the directive, which comes into force in July, is Fareham Borough Council. Fareham was concerned about the effects WBV and HAV might be having on its employees' health and teamed up with vehicle testing specialist Millbrook to carry out a comprehensive review of its fleet and handheld equipment.

Transport manager Trevor Beard explains the decision behind the council's testing programme in order to achieve compliance with the new directive. "I had been aware of the issue of hand and arm vibration, but when talking through the council's obligations as an employer with Millbrook, it soon became apparent that the legislation was developing to include whole body vibration.

"I worked closely with Millbrook's expert engineers to plan the programme of testing so it slotted in around our working day. We planned the test routes so there was limited disruption to the council's operations, right down to ensuring the changeover of shifts and use of different pieces of equipment were factored to coincide with employee breaks. Together we selected equipment for the first phase of testing, which included a road sweeper and refuse truck."

He adds: "The testing itself was not at all obstructive for our drivers. The equipment used was relatively compact - essentially just a laptop and connecting wires. Therefore it slotted into a suitable space within the vehicle or next to the person operating equipment easily."

Surprise results

Once the testing had taken place on the council's fleet and equipment, Millbrook engineers analysed the data and presented the council with a detailed test report and full explanation of the results and their implications.

The results presented a number of surprises and calls for action. In terms of the sit-on waste and recycling equipment tested for WBV, the results were positive. The road sweeper had no issues to report and was within safe limits, as was the refuse truck.

It is important to note however that Fareham's fleet is a modern one and older vehicles are more likely to need modifications. As WBV and HAV applies to all equipment and vehicles regardless of purpose, Fareham also put forward a ride-on lawn mower, hand-held strimmer and hedge trimmer for testing. It was the ride-on mower that showed the biggest cause for concern during testing as it was found to exceed safe limits after 2 hours 50 minutes.

Due to the nature of the jobs the equipment is used for, often one staff member will spend all day on it (excluding scheduled breaks), so Millbrook recommended that the council educated its staff on safety levels. It also advised to put a written notice on the equipment and install a shift system across staff.

Knowledge is power

"The results from the WBV and HAV testing Millbrook undertook have been really useful when it comes to further protecting the health of Fareham Borough Council employees," says Beard. "We now know exactly which pieces of equipment are within safe limits and what these limits are, allowing us to comply with the legislation. It is now our intention to complete a second phase of testing to check additional items of equipment are being used within safe limits.

"I think it is fair to say that the issue of WBV is relatively unknown and considering it will become legislation in July there may be a number of employers who could be leaving themselves open to potential employee health issues, which may lead to legal action. I'm glad we've acted in plenty of time, before the legislation comes into force, as it takes time to action changes."

Bruce Lornie, business development manager, Millbrook, added: "Local authorities need to be on the front foot, making sure they are ready to embrace the directive when it comes into force. Time must be factored in to plan testing and any remedial work that needs to take place so councils don't suffer distributions to working schedules. Prevention is better than cure and that goes for the health of employees and the legal implications for local authorities."

www.millbrook.co.uk

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