Vibrations law could hit industry hard, warns MEP

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details Vol.7, No.39, 25.10.01, p37
Publication Date 25/10/2001
Content Type

Date: 25/10/01

By Martin Banks

A NEW law that limits the time workers can spend operating vibrating equipment will cause "horrendous" problems for industry, it has been claimed.

The physical agents directive will, for example, dramatically reduce the time someone can work on dumper trucks, steam rollers and mechanical diggers.

The law, aimed at cutting the risk of serious injury caused by 'bad vibrations', was passed by MEPs meeting in plenary session in Strasbourg on 23 October.

Members, however, accepted a key amendment that excludes agriculture and forestry workers from the directive for at least five years - pending further research into the damage caused by vibration.

Parliament was told the new law would have caused massive problems for farm workers, for example, limiting the time they could drive tractors at harvest time.

The controversial directive will still apply, however, to other major industries, including engineering, mining, quarrying and the building trade.

British Liberal Democrat MEP Liz Lynne, who negotiated the compromise amendment, warned the directive will cause "horrendous" problems for industry. She said: "I am pleased the amendment was accepted because the disruption and cost to millions of farmers would have been massive. Many are already on the verge of bankruptcy and it would be crazy to force thousands out of business for no good reason."

She added: "There is no evidence that legal limits are actually needed. Vibration at very high levels may cause back problems but there is no scientific evidence of a quantifiable link you can measure.This law could still have a horrendous impact on other industries. It could cause huge cost increases for construction and engineering firms in Europe and on projects like the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. "Workers could only drive their dumper trucks, or any other vibrating machinery, for between two and four hours."

Sue Pointer, Brussels-based head of EU policy for the Confederation of British Industry, also attacked the directive, saying: "It will cause enormous difficulties for many industries without producing any proven benefits for workers. The limits that have been set are scientifically questionable and will have serious consequences for businesses across Europe." Under the law, workers will only be able to operate vibrating machines for a set period during a typical eight-hour shift. The directive has been introduced following pressure from the European Commission over concerns about the health risk posed by heavy machines.

It will now be the subject of negotiations between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers for final approval. Damien Phillips, European policy director of the UK-based National Farmers Union, said he was relieved that farmers would be excluded. "The directive would have limited the time a farmer can drive his tractor for between two and four hours. Someone else would then have had to take over. This would have been totally unworkable and caused an astronomical rise in costs."

Nigel Bryson, director of health and environment for the UK-based GMB trade union, welcomed the directive, but said it does not go far enough. He said: "Thousands of European workers are injured, sometimes very seriously, by vibrating machines each year so this new law is a step forward providing it is effectively enforced. "However, we want to see all vibrating machinery outlawed eventually."

A new law that limits the time workers can spend operating vibrating equipment will cause 'horrendous' problems for industry, it has been claimed.

Subject Categories