Work equipment inspections are a vital aspect of an employer’s duty to keep their employees safe in their use of equipment in the workplace, helping to ensure that any issues affecting the equipment’s use are detected and remedied before it results in an accident.
The requirement to carry out such inspections are set out in regulation 6(1) & (2) of The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER), which makes it clear that such inspections need to be carried out by a 'Competent Person'.
However, what constitutes competence can often cause confusion, with the regulations silent on the issue. Getting it wrong, or relying on the wrong advice, can have serious implications not just for the company, but senior managers too.
SHP Online recently reported on the two year prison sentence issued to an access plant hire firm manager following a fatal incident. He had relied upon the negligent advice of a third party inspection company to repair, instead of replace, a damaged mobile boom platform. As the HSE Inspector pointed out:
“The competence and diligence of a thorough examiner is vital, as it is they who declare the MEWP is safe to use.”
We, therefore, explore the PUWER Regulation and HSE’s Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) further, alongside giving some practical examples of how employers can fulfil their duty in this area.
The PUWER Regulations and guidance from the HSE
The interpretation provisions set out in Part 1(2) of PUWER state that the inspection requirements under Regulation 6(1) and (2) of PUWER:
“means such visual or more rigorous inspection by a competent person as is appropriate for the purpose described in the paragraph”
The HSE’s ACoP sets out the requirement of Competent Persons further:
- “You should ensure that people who determine the nature of the inspections required and who carry out inspections are competent to do so.” (para 90)
- “The competent person should have the necessary knowledge and experience.” (para 91).
Paragraph 92 of The Guidance states that it is not necessary for those determining the nature of inspections and carrying them out to be the same person and that they require different knowledge and experience.
Those determining the extent of the inspection must be able to decide ‘what the inspection should include, how it should be done and when it should be carried out’. This includes being able to ‘detect damage or faults resulting from deterioration’ and ‘whether any tests are needed during the inspection to see if the equipment is working safely or is structurally sound’.
Those carrying out the inspections must have ‘adequate knowledge of the equipment to: enable them to know what to look at (know the key components); know what to look for (fault-finding); and know what to do (reporting faults, making a record, who to report to).’
Finally, the level of competence will ‘vary according to the type of equipment and where and how it is used’.
Practical considerations for deciding who can carry out a PUWER inspection
There are three aspects which are required to carry out a PUWER inspection to the necessary level of competence: knowledge of the machinery itself and issues that can lead to deterioration/failure, general health & safety best practice and an understanding of the particular factors that may affect the use of equipment in the workplace.
While it may be possible for inspections of some more basic equipment to be undertaken in-house, more complex machinery, such as power presses, lifting equipment, wood working machinery, etc. often require both internal and external expertise and knowledge. Internal staff should be able to offer insight into existing processes, usage, common issues that occur and the competency of staff. Meanwhile, external experts can offer wider engineering knowledge of health & safety best practice and in-depth working knowledge of the machinery.
PUWER competence: what you should look for in external service providers
If you are utilising the services of external experts, you should look for the following attributes:
General health and safety knowledge
- Are staff fully trained on how to conduct risk assessments?
- Do their employees hold the Chartered Institute of Health and Safety Certification?
- Are they supervised sufficiently by Chartered Engineers?
- Do they hold UKAS accreditation to carry out inspections and testing, which confirms that they have been independently verified to carry out inspections to a competent level?
- What knowledge do they have of your industry?
- Do they work with you to fully understand the working conditions in your organisation or do they make assumptions based on their experience?
Experience of your sector is beneficial, but the inspection company should be working with you to fully understand your business’ working conditions, as in-house staff are best placed to provide this knowledge.
In-depth knowledge of machinery design and deterioration mechanisms
- How much experience do staff have of conducting inspections on the specific equipment you require?
- Is the company a UKAS Notified Body for the Machinery Directive? Accreditation shows that the company has demonstrated that they carry sufficient skills and knowledge of working with designers to ensure that the equipment being designed and built is safe to use. Such skills are highly relevant and transferrable to the issue of whether an installation is safe.
As you can see, employers have to consider a range of different factors when deciding on the issue of who can carry out a PUWER inspection for their company. Self-proclaimed competence is not enough: you should always look for independent verification, such as qualifications and - if instructing a third party – accreditations, to ensure that you can justify your decision should the need arise.
Competence is one of the issues duty holders need to get right when it comes to fulfilling their responsibilities for inspection of work equipment. Determining the correct inspection frequency is another. To make it easier for you to find out how to comply with PUWER, as well as a number of other relevant regulations, such as the LOLER, COSHH, PSSR or Electricity at Work Regulations, we have put together a comprehensive ‘Engineering Inspection Guide’ for you. Download your free copy via the link below.