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Noise and vibration at work

Welcome to the HSE Podcast.

In this episode we talk to Pete Lennon who runs HSE's Noise and Vibration Team.

We don't want people to go to work and then leave work with an illness that is not curable, because if you go deaf you cannot get your hearing back. If you get Vibration White Finger you will not get back the feeling in your hands.

And HSE's Rachel Jones tells us about the most common type of calls on the Infoline. But first here's a round up of the latest health and safety news.

HSE is launching a new initiative this month aimed at stopping bad practices on building sites. Construction is one of Britain's most dangerous industries and 53 people were killed last year. The initiative will focus on refurbishment and roofing work and inspectors plan to make unannounced visits to ensure sites are in good order. A gate manufacturer has been fined £80,000 after a nine year old boy was crushed to death by electric powered gates at the entrance of a block of flats. Jason Keet was visiting his grandparents at the flats in Dorset he tried to open the gates by pressing the button which was meant for people leaving the block on foot there was a gap large enough for him to get between the edge of one of the gates and brick pillar when the gates began to move the gap he was standing in narrowed. Bournemouth Crown Court heard that Faulkner Gates had failed to properly control risks caused by the design of the gates the company pleaded guilty. Speaking after the hearing prosecuting HSE inspector Stephen Hanson-Hall said there was no way Jason could have been expected to understand the risks created by the design of the gates. He said it was a tragedy that should never have happened.

A South Yorkshire Council has been fined £75,000 after an employee was killed by a reversing truck. Gordon Duffield who worked for Rotherham Council was knocked down by an eight wheeled tipper wagon as it delivered asphalt to a site in the town. Brocklebank and Company Limited who operated the wagon were also fined £30,000.

New laws designed to improve the safety of tower cranes on construction sites will come into force next month. From April the 6th anyone wanting to use a crane will need to notify the HSE and a thorough examination of the crane will have to take place within 14 days of it being erected. The new law will also apply to cranes already on sites although they will have 28 days to be inspected.

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For links to these HSE websites and other issues covered in this episode view the transcript at hse.gov.uk/podcasts. You can stay up to date with the latest news and updates from the HSE by visiting the news pages on our website hse.gov.uk/news. If you'd rather get the latest news by e-mail then sign up for free regular eBulletins on a range of different health and safety subjects, sign up at hse.gov.uk/news/subscribe.

As many listeners will know HSE breaks its many duties into divisions and teams. In our occasional series looking at the work of HSE we spoke to Pete Lennon who heads up the Noise and Vibration Unit.

We take the policy lead for noise and vibration in the workplace. In the workplace something like 2,000,000 people a year are exposed to the potential for going deaf from loud machines or loud equipment and something like 5,000,000 are exposed to machines that vibrate or tools that vibrate and therefore the potential for long-term illness.

Looking at noise first you did run a campaign didn't you called 'Sound Advice' looking at people working in the music and entertainment industries.

The idea behind the musical entertainment industry is that noise is produced for pleasure in orchestras, in concerts, it's used in pubs and clubs and under the Regulations there's a duty for people who are at work to be protected from excessive noise and what we did with 'Sound Advice' was work with industry to produce guidance to say how you can best control exposure and reduce the risk to people either playing instruments in orchestra, teaching kids music in school, pubs and clubs and even outdoor venues like Glastonbury and so on.

But you came in for a bit of stick for this campaign didn't you because everyone I think might have thought you were being a bit miserable.

There was a sense that it was the nanny state telling us that you couldn't listen to music and you couldn't go to concerts and we're not trying to do that we're saying to people music is produced for entertainment purposes, people enjoy it and the people that go to a concert actually go willingly to listen to loud music. If you're a musician in an orchestra or a band you're going to be exposed to very loud levels of noise over an intense period and what we're saying is if you're doing that there are sensible things you can do to protect your hearing because if you do go deaf it takes a long time people don't suddenly go deaf under normal circumstances it happens over time, it's gradual you don't notice it, your parents notice it or your brothers or your sisters notice it because the TV gets very loud but you don't know it's very loud. For musicians if you're playing in a rock band you can take precautions to protect your hearing and what we're saying to people is that's what you should be doing and the stick that we got was really because people thought we were trying to hard to stop people enjoying themselves.

But you did have musicians backing your campaign anyway didn't you?

We've worked with the Musicians Union in preparing guidance that is sensible and gives people the right kind of tools to use to protect their hearing. There are musicians out there famous people who have over time lost their hearing so people like Pete Townsend and Phil Collins are examples of people that have gone deaf because the music that its exposed to have been too loud.

Again on the noise front you also look at people working in factories so it's the noise of machinery isn't it, the same thing can happen to them.

Absolutely, absolutely and what we're saying to people that work in factories the employers and the employees is. If you look at what you're doing can you make it quieter, can you buy a quieter machine if you can't buy a quieter machine can you put the machine in a box to make the noise contained and if you can't do that then you think about providing people with hearing protection and you give people training and supervision to understand the risks to their health. Because if you go deaf it's a long-term process you won't go deaf straight away, it'll be 5, 10, 15 years down the line when you suddenly realise you can't hear as well as you could.

And what about the other side of your work so it's noise and vibration, can you tell me a bit about that side?

Vibration comes from things like hand-tools in the construction industry people use drills, they use diggers they'll use equipment that vibrates and over time if you're exposed to a lot of vibration you'll lose the sense of feeling in the finger tips and you get something we call Vibration White Finger. It doesn't sound very bad you know Vibration White Finger but what happens in reality is you lose the sense of feeling and touch and you get tingling and numbness in your fingers and the long-term effects of that is you can't work outside so you have to wear gloves because if it's cold your hands hurt. You can't pick your grand-children up because you can't sense what you're feeling. You can't do up your zip, you cannot enjoy your real life and you then can't do the job that you thought you wanted to do for the rest of your life.

What kind of campaigns have you got coming up as part of your team?

Well we've spent a lot of time doing the 'Sound Advice' and we want to refocus the campaign on looking at worker involvement that is getting the employees to work with their employers on managing the risks in a sensible way, we don't want to stop people doing their jobs, we don't want to put people out of work, we don't want to close factories down, that's not our business. But what we do know is if you get employees who do the job who understand how the tools work, who understand how the machines work, talking to their employers about sensible risk precautions, you can reduce the potential for people being made ill and long-term that's what we want. We don't want people to go to work and then leave work with an illness that is not curable, because if you go deaf you cannot get your hearing back. If you get Vibration White Finger you will not get back the feeling in your hands.

And often as well people at work when you work for a big organisation especially you've got to fill in a risk assessment and you just have got no idea why you're having to do it so does that worker involvement side of things will that answer some of that?

We would hope so, in our experience of worker involvement so far is that if you get the people that do the job to talk to the managers about how it's being done you can then come up with a strategy that works for that particular company and that particular workforce. Risk assessment is important but it's not the end in itself. What we want people to do is identify where there's a problem and then deal with it, control the exposure that's the most important thing.

I mean it's sort of stating the obvious really isn't it, why do you have to run a campaign to tell bosses that they need to involve their workers and get advice from them about the machinery and the equipment that they're using?

I think we want to involve the workforce, we need to tell employers because there's been a change in how people work so there are fewer unionised factories. Involving the workforce just isn't talking to the trade unions it's talking to the employees themselves and we think that as part of our long-term strategy, HSE's long-term strategy, is saying if you get employees and employers working together you can begin to reduce the risks and sometimes you just need to keep saying the same thing because people forget the messages over time.

You can read the transcript for this Podcast episode at hse.gov.uk/podcasts and get more information about the issues discussed in this interview.

The HSE protecting people's health and safety at work.

Now in our regular feature we put HSE Infoline's Rachel Jones to the test by asking her to answer one of your popular health and safety questions.

(Telephone ringing.) Good Afternoon HSE's Infoline Andrew speaking how can I help?

Hello my name's Rachel Jones I'm here to answer all of your health and safety questions.

So as part of this series we're asking you what the frequently asked questions are at the Infoline here in Caerphilly. Can you tell me sort of some of the you know top things what's one of the things in the top ten?

One of the most popular questions would be toilet provision not the most pleasant thing to talk about but yeah it comes up quite a lot. How you get a lot of people calling through they're either not allowed to go the toilet or there's not enough sanitary provision. When you say toilet it could be the washing facilities within them as well, things like provision of sanitary bins, it's quite a lot of things associated with it.

What are the rules about what needs to be provided for people at work?

It depends really on how many people work there whether it's male or female or mixed. If it's mixed then there'd be a minimum you've got 1 to 5 either women or men and women, one toilet, one wash basin. So the table's a guidance only but generally inspectors like them to provide something.

So we've got the table here and I think it's quite interesting because if there are 5, between 1 and 5 people at work and it's men and woman there's one toilet but if it's men on their own 1 to 15 men are only entitled to one toilet. I think all women always think that men have better toilet facilities than women, you know women are always queuing men never are.

That's true that's true there's a provision of one toilet, one urinal for 1 to 15 men. They don't all go in a group I'm assuming so maybe the one toilet's adequate I don't really know so.

You mentioned earlier that sometimes people phone up about being allowed to go to the toilet I mean that seems I've heard that before it's almost like a way of bullying people, do you get a lot of call about that people not allowed to go to the toilet?

A lot of calls about that and you get people who've got medical conditions they've got to use a toilet generally a lot of them will be lone workers so I think it's down to manpower and the employer just not letting them go because they're there on their own running that basically that business. That's the main complaint that we get.

What else has to be provided I mean do employers have to provide hot running water for example?

With regards to facilities they need to provide hot and cold running water, soap to wash their hands and some means of drying, it can be an actual hand dryer or paper towels but they need to provide that kind of facility.

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Updated 2013-03-29