BAM to eliminate 'bygone' vibrating tools

5 July 2018 | By Neil Gerrard

BAM Nuttall is to eliminate the use of rock drills, hand breakers and scabblers on its projects by the end of the year in a bid to stamp out white finger.

The company said it believed the impact of the tools on people within the industry has been underplayed and wanted to get rid of as many as possible, despite the challenges involved in doing so.

BAM Nuttall divisional director John Heffernan said: "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.

"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 company said that at the most basic level, there needed to be a change in attitude 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," said Heffernan.

"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."

"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.”

The company said it had already successfully trialled machines that significantly reduce Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome on a number of projects.

At its Heathrow Airport tunnels project, it used a Positioner-Actuator-Manipulator (PAM), a patented support arm for supporting a range of air breakers and scabblers from STM. Powered by air over hydraulics, it offers fast, safe and consistent production and is designed to push the tool against the surface which reduces dead blow and hand-arm vibration.

Meanwhile, at Chiswick Bridge, it used a PAM OVE carrier that makes overhead and vertical concrete chipping and drilling easier, by reducing vibrations and operator effort.

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