These days, we take it for granted that work equipment – especially hazardous machinery and installations – need regular safety inspections.
After all, the duty to inspect work equipment has long been enshrined in law. Under the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974, duty holders such as owners and employers have an obligation to ensure every item of equipment provided to, or used by, their employees is safe.
The type and nature of engineering inspection required varies depending on the equipment and which other regulations it falls under. But, as a general rule, the more hazardous the equipment, the more regular and thorough any inspection must be.
To guide you through the statutory inspection requirements for common types of equipment, this post gives you a little background to the statutory inspection regime and the regulations you need to be aware of.
A quick history of the statutory inspection
The earliest statutory inspections date back to mid 19th century in Manchester, then the epicentre of the Industrial Revolution. At this time, there were some 50,000 steam boilers within a 10-mile radius of the city centre.
Unfortunately, as boilers became larger and operated at higher pressures, explosions were more frequent and many people were injured and/or killed. To get an idea of the carnage such explosions caused, have a look at this publication: ‘Boiler Explosions in Pictures’.
By the 1850s, the engineer Sir William Fairbairn was pressing for regular inspections of steam boilers, believing that avoidable mechanical faults could be identified before disaster struck. To do this he founded the Manchester Steam Users’ Association in 1854, which undertook periodic inspections of boilers.
Although the later Boiler Explosions Act of 1882 determined that boiler explosions should be investigated by The Board of Trade Surveyors, it took nearly 20 years and over 1,000 more boiler explosions before the Factories and Workshops Act 1901 made it a legal requirement for 'competent persons' to carry out regular and thorough inspections of boilers. This was the first time it became a legal duty to inspect any item of equipment. It set in place future legislation to improve plant safety by introducing inspection regimes.
Today, the main groups of plant that need statutory inspections by 'Competent Persons' are:
- Boiler plant/pressure systems
- Lifting equipment
- COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations, usually known as Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV)
- Power presses; and
- Electrical equipment.
In an upcoming post, we’ll be looking in detail at which items of equipment under these categories need statutory inspection. Here, we'll concentrate on which regulations cover each of these plant categories with information on what the inspection requirements are.
Boiler plant/pressure systems
The inspection requirements for this category are consolidated under the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations, 2000 (PSSR). They cover all systems comprising of one or more rigid vessels with associated pipework and protective devices, whether they contain steam, pressured gases or other fluids that are kept artificially under pressure and which become gases on release into the atmosphere.
PSSR demands that a 'competent person' inspects these systems with reference to a relevant Written Scheme of Examination (WSE). It is worth noting that a system (except for steam systems) requires a WSE when it contains a vessel exceeding 250 bar litres (product of volume and maximum pressure). A WSE is a document that identifies the extent of the pressure system and outlines its examination requirements, based on an analysis of foreseeable failure mechanisms. Normally, this involves a thorough inspection while the system is ‘out of service’ and vessels are opened, as well as a working examination under operating conditions.
The frequency of inspections is determined by risk assessing the likelihood of potential failure mechanisims occurring, based on predicted operating conditions and should be clearly specified in the WSE.
The Safety Assessment Federation (SAFed) publishes Guidelines of Periodicity of Examination, which specifies inspection frequencies that range from every 14 months for steam boilers and ovens, to every 48 months for air conditioning plant above 25kW.
SAFed represents the UK independent engineering inspection and certification industry, which plays a key role in maintaining high standards of safety within the workplace.
It acts as a focal point for all issues and concerns relating to the statutory inspection and certification, safe use and operation of plant, machinery and equipment.
For more information on PSSR, please download our Guide to Inspection Services and review pp15 - Pressure Systems.
Equipment such as cranes, fork lift trucks, telehandlers, lifts and other machinery designed to lift or lower a load are covered by The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER).
It is recommended that such items should be inspected by a 'competent person' who is independent and impartial, who can make objective decisions on the safety of the plant. LOLER requires that equipment used to lift and lower people is examined every six months, with other equipment and related plant being inspected every 12 months. However, LOLER does allow a risk-assessment based approach, which requires that a WSE is created, which may result in longer or shorter periods between inspections. For more information on LOLER, please download our dedicated guide here, written by Technical Manager, Paul Forrster.
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) - Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV)
LEV plant is equipment that controls, captures or contains hazardous airborne releases at (or close to) the point of emission and removes the pollutant to a point where it can be safely collected or released. Examples include paint spray booths, shot blast units, dust extractors and fume cupboards in laboratories.
Equipment of this nature is covered by Regulation 9 of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations and may also fall under the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 and the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002.
COSHH requires that LEV plant must be examined by a 'competent person' at intervals that vary depending on the type of business and the application of the equipment. For example, LEV used in shot blasting of raw castings needs inspecting monthly, while equipment used for non-ferrous metalworking needs examining every six months. Most other applications require inspecting every 14 months.
A power press is a power-driven mechanical press with a clutch and flywheel, used to work cold metal. These fall under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, which specifies that a person should be appointed to set tools and carry out a simple inspection of the press and its guarding system, within four hours of every working shift.
In addition, a 'competent person' must carry out regular statutory inspections. Power presses with interlocked guards and press brakes with light guards must be examined every six months. Power presses with fixed guards must be inspected annually. There is no flexibility in the regulations to apply a risk-based approach to these inspections.
Find out more about fulfilling your PUWER inspection obligations in this guide by Paul Forrester. Click here for your free copy.
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAWR) require all electrical systems to be maintained to prevent death or personal injury.
The current British Standard BS 7671 Requirements for Electrical Installations, is the most trusted guidance for the design and maintenance of electrical installations. It recommends a 'competent person' examine electrical systems once every three to five years, depending on the type of business and the associated electrical risks. The purpose is to identify any defects in installations that could result in injury to any person.
See our Technical Manager for Electrical - Stuart Downing's guide on fulfilling your duties for electrical inspections.
Conclusion – keeping on the right side of the regulations
Even if your workplace equipment does not fall under any of the above legislation then it will fall under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER), which has its own requirements for inspections to be conducted.
Depending on your business, your work equipment could fall under a wide range of different regulations and recommended inspection regimes which you need to understand the regulatory responsibilities for. Furthermore, you will need 'competent person(s)' - people who have the right theoretical and practical knowledge - to inspect equipment, identify defects & weakness and assess their importance to the safety and continued use of any item.
Using an independent 'competent person' is highly recommended for any statutory inspections, as it rules out any suggestion of a conflict of interest when it comes to service and repairs. At British Engineering Services, we offer national coverage of Engineer Surveyors qualified to undertake inspections required for the above plant and provide guidance on inspection intervals. Find out more about our Engineering Inspection Services here.
Considering employing an engineering inspection body? Be sure to read our free guide The Essential questions to ask your engineering inspection supplier.