Studies show there are some 1.5 to 2 million U.S. workers - and millions more worldwide - who are regularly exposed to Hand-Arm Vibration (HAV) during their work. Regular HAV exposure has been shown to be inextricably, medically linked to an irreversible, non-curable medical condition of the hands called Raynaud's Phenomenon, Vibration White Finger, or simply Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).
For a long time, Europe has been aware of the problem and working toward a solution. There, equipment manufacturers are subject to BSEN5004:2006, a standard that outlines the essential requirements for the design of equipment so as to minimize workers' exposure to HAV. Here in North America, ANSI S2.70 was introduced in 2006, setting forth standards for employers to use as guidance in minimizing workers' exposure to vibration. For its part, ISO5349 provides a measurement template for manufacturers of vibrating equipment, but interpretation of these results is needed by the employer to assess how much usage will be allowable within the ANSI limits.
"There are currently no mandatory regulations that are in effect in the U.S.," notes Fabian Salinas, product manager, concrete and light compaction equipment at Dynapac. "[ANSI] has limits for the time an operator is allowed to use a particular piece of equipment for liability reasons. In Europe, they have strict regulations and requirements for how long an operator can use a particular piece of equipment, based on its HAV rating."
According to Charlie Trelease, president of Tiger Equipment, "Within Europe, there is great emphasis on the health and safety of its workers. While the U.S. has guidance for issues such as lifting regulations, there is really only minimal guidance with regard to the risk of vibration."
The prevalence of HAVS in European workers has led to an increased awareness among employers there. Now, the risk to employees is managed by law and those not following regulations face stringent penalties, not to mention leave themselves open to lawsuits from employees. With this in mind, the U.S. might begin to more strictly regulate HAV in order to minimize employers' liability and prevent lawsuits.How does this affect you?
Since HAVS affects equipment operators, and the responsibility for their health and well-being falls on those operators' employers, is this issue relevant to rental businesses? The answer is yes.
According to Trelease, there are many reasons why rental business owners need to be aware of the problem of HAVS. Perhaps most pressing - and fundamental - is the need to provide customers with the equipment they want and need.
"As more employers put in place programs for managing the vibration exposure of their workers, the need to assess how tasks are carried out will be of primary importance," he says. Vibration exposure can be managed a number of ways. Once the typical vibration exposure for each task is assessed, then the employer must ensure that the number of tasks carried out by a worker does not exceed the limit set in the ANSI standard, Trelease explains. This can be a problem, as many pieces of equipment available on the market today could restrict a worker to only one task per day, which potentially leaves the employer with a problem of workforce utilization or a backup of tasks.
"The most common solution to this problem is for employers to specify the use of low-HAV equipment that will significantly increase the safe usage time while still working within the limit set by the ANSI standard," Trelease says. "As employers begin to specify low-HAV equipment, the rental store will have to react to this by stocking low-HAV equipment."
He continues, "The rental stores may also find out that they will have a duty to their customers to ensure that they are aware of the risk from the effects of vibration by applying appropriate markings on equipment and providing guidance brochures within the store. Taking this action will limit the liability of the rental store."