Director Briefings Part 6: PUWER and the Duties Relating to Work Equipment
In this Director Briefing, specialist health and safety Solicitor Julia Thomas and Principal Consultants Trevor Howard and Alan Pressley provide an overview of key requirements in the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (“PUWER”) and make some practical suggestions about how Directors can help to identify non-compliances and in turn help to assure corporate compliance.
The regulations are extensive but, as with many other health and safety obligations, at the heart of them lies the duty to assess the risks to health and safety from work equipment, and the suitability of the equipment for the use to which it is being put.
PUWER duties are owed by:
- anyone in control of work equipment.
- anyone who supervises or manages the use of work equipment or the way the equipment is to be used.
Work equipment includes most items used for work, whether it is new or second hand, and whether owned by the business or hired for a specific job including:
- toolboxes and the tools used to carry out maintenance tasks within your premises.
- office items such as photocopiers and computers.
- vehicles used for work purposes (including onsite vehicles like forklift trucks as well as vehicles used for work purposes such as deliveries or site visits).
- scaffolding used by your staff (regardless of whether or not you have exclusive use).
- lifts and escalators.
As Directors you can have input:
1. To ensure that equipment which is brought into the business or moved within a business, is suitable and safe for its intended use. Does it have a risk assessment carried out by competent individuals, (which for plant and machinery is likely to be a multi-skilled team) which identifies any risks associated with its actual use and how those risks are to be mitigated? Don’t assume. Check and challenge.
2. When considering the purchase of new plant and machinery, ensure that:
- the purchasing team is given a full specification of what is required (using expert input if you don’t have sufficient confidence that your business has full knowledge of current legal requirements which should form part of the specification), and
- a detailed factory acceptance test (FAT) is completed and checked against the spec before the equipment is shipped. This will help ensure you get the machine that it is suitable for your business, and will save time and money through not having to make pre-use adjustments later.
- the equipment is inspected before use to check it has been correctly installed and is fit for use.
3. Double-check that arrangements are in place to maintain equipment and ensure that it includes arrangements for the periodic inspection of equipment which may deteriorate and that those arrangements are adhered to. Have a look at inspection records periodically to check they are taking place as expected.
4. On walk rounds, check that the equipment is being operated as expected, that short cuts are not being used, and ask your staff about what they do to check that the training and instructions they have received appear satisfactory. Do they know how to shut machinery down? Is the stop button clearly identified? Are they authorised/licenced to use the equipment in question? Do the operators understand the controls and based on your observations of their movements, are they working safely? Do they understand the importance of safety guards? Are they operating the equipment entirely in accordance with your company’s procedures?
5. Look at any work equipment critically. If machinery has guards, are they in place, secure and locked? Is access to keys to unlock them restricted and controlled? Does anything look to be accessible (or being accessed) which perhaps ought to be guarded? Don’t dismiss a concern on the basis “people wouldn’t be so stupid as to do that.” There are plenty of judgments and substantial fines imposed on businesses which find to their cost that “they” most certainly are.
6. Check that your health and safety manager is familiar with and complying with the PUWER Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) issued by the HSE. ACOPs do not mandate requirements but they do have a specific legal status. The ACOP contains practical advice on compliance with PUWER and if you follow its advice you will be doing enough to comply with the law. If you are prosecuted for a breach of PUWER and you did not follow the ACOP, then you will have the burden of providing evidence that you have complied with the law in another way, or you will be found guilty of a breach.