Balfour Beatty’s 2020 HAVS safety target

4 February 2019 | By Will Mann

There were 270 new Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) cases across all industries in 2017

Balfour Beatty plans to eliminate new cases of hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) by 2020. Head of health and safety Heather Bryant explains how to Will Mann.

Is it possible to eradicate Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) from construction? That’s the ambition of a new health and safety strategy from Britain’s biggest construction group Balfour Beatty, which wants to see no new cases of HAVS on its sites by next year.

The disease has long been associated with construction, particularly with breakers, saws and drills, though instances have fallen over the last decade as control measures have improved. In 2017, there were 270 new HAVS claims across all industries, out of 7,115 over the 10-year period dating back to 2008.

Heather Bryant, Balfour’s health, safety, environment and sustainability director, says “awareness has grown” but “HAVS is still an issue”. Formerly the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) chief inspector of construction, she says: “Based on my experience, HAVS has not always been declared because people didn’t want to be stopped from working.”

Bryant is also concerned about how the industry uses the HSE’s exposure points system, created following the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, which calculates exposure values based on time and vibration magnitude level.

“People think that if their exposure score is under the recommended level, then they’re fine,” she says. “We’re saying ‘that’s the wrong approach’. You should be trying to eliminate vibration exposure from the outset by planning your work differently.”

This holistic approach, which also ties in with the goals of the Construction Design & Management Regulations 2015, puts more onus on upfront planning.

“We can build very well, but our designers and architects don’t always think about the health and safety aspect,” says Bryant.

“It is through forethought that we can eliminate HAVS risks, rather than trying to solve everything at build stage.”

Heather Bryant, Balfour Beatty

“So, for example, when ducting is required, usually site workers will use drilling. But on one of our projects, for installation of the M&E service trays, instead we cast Unistrut channels into the underside of the precast floor slabs. This eliminated drilling – and dust and vibration – plus an estimated 75% reduction in working at height. It also yielded a one day a week saving on the M&E programme.”

She adds that drilling has now been banned on some Balfour Beatty sites.

Bryant believes there is a big role for BIM with this ‘health and safety by design’ approach, as she calls it. “We should be starting at the beginning, putting health and safety considerations into the design stage,” she says. “It is through forethought that we can eliminate HAVS risks, rather than trying to solve everything at build stage.”

Balfour Beatty’s supply chain will be key to the strategy, Bryant recognises. As part of its ‘Zero Harm’ philosophy, it has established working groups to tackle various concerns, and established one for HAVS last April. The members are specialist contractors Morrisroe, Carey and Fortel, tool manufacturer Hilti and recruitment business McGinley.

“We set them the challenge, by December, of identifying the key HAVS risk areas and establishing a hierarchy of control,” Bryant explains. “They came back with a guide which we are calling the ‘Hateful Eight’ [see box].

“So, for example, for pile-breaking, the best practice recommends eliminating the risk by using remote-controlled Brokk demolition robots.”

Bryant wants suppliers to collaborate and share ideas, but is firm that best practice will have to be adhered to. “There will come a time in 2020 when we tell our suppliers, ‘these are the solutions and they are what we expect on our sites’,” she says.

“But we will also tell our suppliers if they find something better, safer, more innovative than what is in the Balfour Beatty plant standards book – then we’ll take a look at it.”

This will likely include more use of robotics and automation, says Bryant. On an M3 project, collaborating with Extrudakerb, Balfour Beatty used an automated saw for cutting into concrete step barriers. “We reduced HAVS exposure to operatives by 32%,” Bryant explains. “The remotely operated saw also reduces exposure to dust and noise, and makes a cleaner and more accurate cut, reducing the need for rework.”

On another Balfour Beatty road job, the M1 Kislingbury scheme, structural repair specialist Balvac used positioner-actuator-manipulators (PAMs), a supported, free-moving arm which operatives can guide to break out concrete with no HAVS risk.

Repetition and standardisation will help promote this kind of technology and cut risk, Bryant says. “It also fits with our target of reducing onsite work by 25% by 2025, as we move more work into the factory,” she adds.

Use of offsite manufacturing and feeding safety thinking into the design stage is, of course, fine in theory – but will it work in practice when lead-in times are tight and construction programmes even tighter?

“The answer to that is educating clients about the benefits,” replies Bryant. “On our 5 Miles Street project in south London, where the ductwork was cast in to the precast floors, we actually delivered the building more quickly. So, while the original aim of the strategy was to improve operational safety, a positive consequence was that the client got the building early.”

Bryant stresses that the primary reason for the HAVS strategy is “zero harm to our workers”. But she adds: “There may be more time, cost and planning required upfront, but there are bigger benefits further down the line. Our industry has a skills shortage and productivity is low. That can be partly addressed by keeping workers healthier, so they can stay in their jobs for longer, and by making efficiency games from technology such as robotics.”

Balfour’s HAVS ‘Hateful Eight’


Do Balfour Beatty have a HAVs policy and if so please could I have a copy. I am a H&S Inspector/Auditor working for Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council

Jonathan Beck, 26 March 2020

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