Who can carry out a PUWER inspection?

This Article is a sub-topic of the PUWER Guide
Aug 04, 2023

What does PUWER tell us?

Regulation 6 of PUWER places a duty on the owners of work equipment to ensure it is appropriately inspected and maintained by a competent person. However, the regulations do not provide a definition of what ‘competent person’ means.

If you would like to learn more about PUWER than read our Guide: The ultimate guide to PUWER

What is the purpose of a PUWER inspection?

The HSE’s approved code of practice for PUWER states:

“The purpose of the PUWER inspection is to identify whether the work equipment can be operated and maintained safely and that any deterioration can be detected and remedied before it results in unacceptable risks.”

The use of the phrase ‘can be’ is intentional. It is not the purpose of an inspector to verify that work equipment ‘is’ being operated and maintained safely, this would require that the inspection witnessed every foreseeable task done on the that machine.

Separate to the PUWER inspection process, safe operation and maintenance should be determined taking an approach similar to a HAZOP study but that requires more knowledge and focus on the suitability of the machine for the task at hand. Spiers Engineering Safety have developed Spiers Safe Interventions, an online toolkit, to help equipment owners manage this aspect.

How to identify a ‘competent person’ to carry out PUWER inspections?

The HSE’s approved code of practice for PUWER expands on the competent person topic; it states that a competent person “should have the necessary knowledge and experience” that enables them to know what to look at, what to look for and what action is needed where an issue is identified.

This knowledge and experience can be split into the following for machine safety:

  • Manufacturer Intended Use as stated in the instruction handbook for the equipment
  • The Law e.g. PUWER but also awareness of related legislation such as the Supply of Machinery Regulations*
  • Best Practice e.g. current standards in relation to machine guarding design, HSE information sheets, industry guidance etc.*
  • Risk Assessment is not a requirement of PUWER but is an inevitable outcome as not all defects can be remedied immediately.*

*Evidence of suitable knowledge in these topics may be achieved by completing a relevant qualification, such as the Certified PUWER Assessor CPA™ Qualification in PUWER Inspection (Level 3).

Inspections may be carried out ‘in-house’ provided the people completing the inspection have:

  • Experience of the equipment or similar items, doing inspections and risk assessment
  • Knowledge of best practices in sufficient detail to be able to identify what is wrong and suggest what should be done about it. If sufficient knowledge is not available in the business, it is necessary to engage the support of a third party with suitable competence to complete the inspections on your behalf.

It should be noted that while inspections may be carried out by a third party, the duty to ensure inspections are completed for all work equipment always lies with the person/business in control of the equipment. This responsibility cannot be transferred to third party inspectors.

What does ‘necessary experience’ mean?

It may be the case that experienced employees such as a department manager or supervisor are competent to determine the scope of inspection and complete the inspection itself. They need to have necessary experience and knowledge to be able to identify what needs to be inspected and to be able to detect damage or faults resulting from deterioration. This is likely to be the case for less complex items of equipment.

However, experience of observing and reviewing machine guarding and other protective measures is not easily obtained and maintained so it is likely, in our experience, that some degree of outside support will be appropriate.

This experience, along with knowledge of health and safety best practice, manufacturer recommendations and any relevant industry standards, would be required for both setting the inspection parameters and carrying out the inspections. However, this doesn’t mean the same individual has to do both. HSE guidance makes the following distinction:

Appointed Person for Determining the Nature of the Inspection

This individual requires knowledge of:

  • What the inspection should include – for example, any particular features of the equipment that if omitted from the inspection could result in an unsafe condition arising
  • How the inspection should be carried out – should testing be included, for example
  • How often the inspection is required – knowledge of deterioration mechanisms and likely defects is needed to determine this. Appointed Person for Carrying Out PUWER Inspections

This individual requires knowledge of:

  • The key components of the equipment and the system it operates in
  • Appropriate fault-finding steps in relation to that piece of equipment
  • How to address any defects found and how to properly risk assess, record and report these findings.

How do I check the competence of third party inspection companies?

There are key aspects of third party inspector competence that should always be verified, alongside any specialist inspection requirements (particular skills are required for inspecting and safety critical control systems for example).

These areas are:

  • Relevant engineering skills – on what basis are PUWER Assessors selected and how do they demonstrate and maintain their necessary skills and knowledge? For example, are they a Chartered Engineer or Certified PUWER Assessor (CPA), how many years of relevant service and experience with similar machines do they have?
  • Machine specific knowledge – while detailed knowledge is not always essential, the inspector must fully understand the equipment type, how it is operated in that particular workplace and the environment it is operated in. This will enable the inspector to make informed assumptions based on their experience.
  • Accreditations – has the inspection company been verified by an independent body as competent to carry out inspections and testing (such as the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), or do they attest to work in compliance with the relevant best practices of inspection bodies as defined in ISO/IEC 17020:2012 Requirements for the Operation of Various Types of Bodies Performing Inspection.
  • General health and safety knowledge – what safety qualifications and accreditations are held (a NEBOSH diploma, for example)?

Why is it important to check the competence of PUWER inspectors?

Regulation 6 of PUWER places the duty on work equipment owners to ensure that inspections are carried out by a competent person; to ensure compliance with this aspect, the competence of inspectors must be confirmed prior to any inspections being undertaken. This is straightforward for in-house inspectors as the employer will have knowledge of an employee’s training and experience from being ‘on the job’ and will be able to evidence this through training records and role descriptions.

For third party inspection companies, competence should be checked as part of due diligence or supply chain management processes prior to entering into a contract.

It must be borne in mind that it is not enough to simply ask third parties for evidence of competence; the evidence provided must be fully checked to ensure qualifications remain current and relevant to the service provided. Failure to do so could be significant in terms of liability should an unsafe situation arise.

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