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Working with vibrator plates and breakers

Date posted: 23 September 2013

Avoiding Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)

With many people choosing to take on more complex DIY jobs themselves rather than pay a professional contractor to do it, there are plenty of tasks that demand specialist equipment in order to complete the work.

If you've decided to block pave your drives, pathways or patio, for example, you will usually need to hire a vibrating plate or 'wacker' in order to achieve proper compaction and make sure you end up with an even surface.

For removing tiles, plaster or cement, or carrying out heavy demolition work such as breaking brick walls, you may need to hire a demolition breaker or a combi breaker with demolition hammer. Smaller jobs to remove rust, paint and textured concrete may only need a light duty breaker such as an electric needle gun for the odd bit of chiselling.

Compactors and breakers can make tasks like these much quicker and easier, but overuse of this type of equipment can cause damage to the nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints of your hands and arms as a result of vibration.

Potential risks of using vibrator plates

The occasional use of a compactor or breaker is unlikely to cause you any harm, but if you are working over a large area for a longer period of time you could be at risk of suffering Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). This is a painful, disabling condition that affects the nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints of the hands and arms.

Symptoms include:

  • tingling and numbness in the fingers
  • reduced grip strength
  • reduced sense of touch
  • blood circulation problems ('vibration white finger', also known as VWF).

Choosing the right equipment and using it wisely

You can hire breakers and vibrating plates (or plate compactors) at competitive rates, which means you don't have to invest in buying your own equipment – but it is important to choose the right type, and find out how to use it properly before you get started.

  • Both vibration plates and breakers come in different specifications ranging from light to heavy duty models. Each model is suitable for specific applications, so it is also important to choose the right one for the job.
  • Find a vibrator plate or breaker that is designed to offer low hand-arm vibration levels as standard. This gives the longest safe operator time, and reduces user fatigue.
  • If the equipment you are using causes tingling or numbness in the hands after a few minutes’ use, limit the amount of time you spend using it, particularly in any single stretch. Stop for a break and, if possible, complete part of the job manually (without using high-vibration equipment).
  • If you are working with other people, try to split the work that demands vibration machinery between you all.
  • Hire or buy any protective clothing or accessories that are recommended for use with the equipment you hire - such as safety goggles, ear defenders, gloves and other safety kit.
  • Make sure that the tool hire company you go to is reputable, and maintains the machines as recommended by the manufacturer – for example, they should maintain the machinery's sharpness, and any anti-vibration mounts where they are fitted.

In short...

In summary, when you hire a breaker or vibrator plate:

  • Choose the right equipment for the job.
  • Hire it from a reputable tool hire company that has a valid test and service record for the item.
  • Avoid exerting too much pressure while you're operating the equipment.
  • Avoid using the equipment for extended periods.
  • Wear protective clothing, particularly on your hands.

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