Sarah Richardson rounds up the latest changes to health and safety regulations, including the recently introduced vibration directive

The Health and Safety Executive has introduced three sets of rules affecting construction since January as part of its drive to reduce injuries and ill health in the industry. The executive is also planning further reform, having just ended a consultation period on potential changes to the CDM Regulations.

17 January 2005: Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations amendment

The amendment to the COSHH Regulations introduced in January prohibits the use of cement that has a chromium VI concentration of more than two parts per million. The restriction applies not only to raw cement, but also to products that contain cement such as mortars, grouts and tile adhesives.

The legislation was introduced to reduce the risk of allergic contact dermatitis, a condition that can occur when wet cement containing chromium VI comes into contact with the skin. Manufacturers must now add a reducing agent to their products to ensure chromium concentrations are at an acceptable level. There is also a requirement to state shelf life, as the reducing agent is only affective for a limited period. Cement and cement products produced and used in closed and controlled systems are exempt from the regulation.

31 March-29 July 2005: Consultation on changes to CDM Regulations

The proposed changes to the CDM Regulations are aimed at increasing the involvement of designers in improving the safety of buildings. Proposals include the replacement of planning supervisors with project co-ordinators, and a stipulation that CDM requirements take effect before design work takes place.

6 April 2005: Work at Height Regulations

The Work at Height Regulations replace references to work at height in the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996. They apply to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury, during both the construction and maintenance periods. A crucial change brought in under the regulations is the removal of the distinction between "low falls" - falls from a height of less than 2 m - and "high falls" of more than 2 m. This means that the employer has an equal duty to ensure the safety of all work.

The regulations outline a hierarchy for work at height. If the work cannot be avoided, risks should be prevented or failing that, reduced. The regulations place a duty on the employer to choose the right work equipment and select measures to prevent falls, such as guardrails and working platforms, above measures that will only mitigate the consequences of a fall.

6 July 2005: European Physical Agents (Vibration) Directive

The vibration directive is aimed at limiting the diseases caused by vibration at work from equipment, vehicles and machines. The regulations cap the amount of exposure to vibration a worker can receive per day for work that induces hand-arm vibration and whole body vibration. There is a transitional period giving employers until 2010 to ensure they comply with the limits, which gives time to replace older tools and machinery that cannot keep exposure beneath the limit values.

The directive imposes a duty on employers to introduce a series of measures to reduce exposure to vibration. This includes the use of auxiliary equipment to reduce the risk of injury from vibration, providing adequate rest periods, and arranging appropriate maintenance for equipment.