Apr 17, 2023
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) have been in place since 1998, and before that, there were similar regulations passed into UK law in 1992. Both sets of regulations build upon the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
So why, in 2016, are there still so many accidents, fatalities, prosecutions and fines in the UK industry as a result on non-compliance with PUWER?
In my experience, in many workplaces, PUWER inspections are either not done at all, or done in a haphazard or incomplete manner.
Now, taking the gloves off for a moment, if we explore the reasons given and the reasons perceived by us for this, very often they can be pigeon holed in to one or more of the following:
It is up to the employers to identify the dutyholder(s) for PUWER within their roles and responsibilities. These will be the champions of PUWER within your business. This person shall have responsibility and/or control – directly or indirectly – of work equipment of any type. Larger and more complex organisational arrangements may require that more than one dutyholder be identified. The dutyholder(s) must be furnished with the knowledge and the means to control or mitigate the consequences of risks covered by PUWER. Simply put, the dog must have teeth.
Do you know who your dutyholders for PUWER are?
The dutyholder will normally be at departmental management level but may in certain circumstances, include supervisors or those responsible for sourcing work equipment.
It is an over simplification to imply that one person is responsible for PUWER compliance. The duty holder is the champion of the business process, not the sole participant. Like all business processes often, their correct application requires the involvement of several persons all working in a coordinated manner toward a common goal. Therefore, we will take a broader look at who is linked to PUWER compliance for a business in a broader sense and one way to do this is by using a responsibility matrix. In this case, the RACI method for describing the participation by various roles in completing tasks or deliverables for a project or business process:
The employer is ultimately responsible. However, there is provision in law to allocate dutyholders for PUWER. Typically, this will be the engineering/maintenance manager as they control the budget linked to asset integrity.
The duty holder will typically be assisted by the health and safety manager and rely upon their help to drive the culture and response to PUWER related activities. This assistance is critical to keep safety issues paramount not only in our rhetoric but in our actions. An under-funded engineering department being pressurised by the production management to prioritise up time and the failure of the Health and Safety manager to fight their corner is a common reason behind neglect of the PUWER process.
There are various stakeholders who should be consulted during the PUWER inspection and resulting actions not to mention the design and implementation of the business processes linked to PUWER. These include:
Information and training is a large part of PUWER. The information provided with the machine at the time of purchase or first use shall be used to inform the risk assessment that guides the creation of the safe operating procedures (SOPs). These SOPs are used by the employer to train and inform those employees intended to operate and/or maintain the equipment. These training records often form the basis of authorisation of staff to use the equipment and hence control of use is achieved.
These employees will probably include:
Further, where appropriate, significant results of a PUWER inspection and/or risk assessment may need to be communicated to the supply chain in order that future modifications of machines are not supplied with the same issues that have been identified. In other words, learn from your mistakes and share that learning with those that supply and support your business with work equipment.
The Prosecutions area of the HSE website lists, at the time of writing, shows 49 prosecutions for breaches of PUWER alone in 2016. The total fines linked to PUWER prosecutions came to £2,236,450. This cost of the fine due to the breach itself may be covered by insurance. However, the uninsured costs of an accident is thought to be anything from 8 to 36 times that and can have serious impacts on productivity as well as commercial relationships with large customers demanding high safety performance as a pre-requisite to contract renewal and future work. ref. HSG238, figure 1.
If you are a person of influence and/or responsibility in your business, then give some thought to PUWER when prioritising your time. The risk in your business is linked to work equipment of one type or another; this can vary from a large complex assembly of machines to a small, stand-alone machine.
The risk to your business and your employees is in the top three, second only to transport and fire.
Management must be aware of the requirements of PUWER and understand that this is an absolute duty. They must ensure that PUWER inspections are undertaken at suitable intervals and that a management system is in place for this as an integral part of other H&S management practices. They must also ensure that not only are PUWER inspections carried out, but that the company has the available resources to action any corrective items. It will rarely be practicable for all PUWER-generated actions to be completed at once. It is important to have a documented plan in place for inspection and correction of any outstanding items.
A Safety function, where it exists, should ensure that PUWER inspections are carried out along with other inspections such as noise surveys, LOLER inspections etc, and recognise that a degree of engineering knowledge is required to do a thorough PUWER inspection. A basic knowledge of some of the main standards such as the ones for Risk Assessment and Reach Distances would be useful.
The Engineering department must have an awareness of the requirements of PUWER. The most obvious examples of this would be ‘Regulation 11 – Dangerous Parts of Machinery’ and Regulations involving controls and control systems. Engineers should also be aware of the advantages of using Harmonised Standards as these remove the guesswork and subjectivity in almost all cases. For example, it is impossible to determine if a guard is a suitable distance from the hazard without reference to the appropriate standards. It is not an expectation of these employees to absorb and recite the standards and their contents, but that they should be aware that the standards exist and how to refer to them. It would also be helpful for all involved, if standards were available free of charge or at a minimal cost.
Machine manufacturers who insist that PUWER is a UK-specific requirement should be asked to go back and re-read the Machinery Directive and the Work Equipment Directive and reappraise themselves on their responsibilities. If a machine fails an initial PUWER inspection then it is extremely likely that it is incorrectly CE marked and fails to comply with the Machinery Directive.
Finally, Purchasing. The Purchasing department is probably the team furthest removed from the operating or engineering environment. They may have a basic list of requirements as to what the new machine is required to achieve but little or no guidance in terms of safety. Experience shows that Purchasing departments will often choose the cheapest machine of its type, comparing only the throughput and price of the various tenders. Few would argue that the role of the Purchasing team in a capital purchase is to procure the best, or most cost-effective, machine for the best price, and so to secure best value for their company. Where is the value to the company in selecting a machine that has to be extensively reworked before it can be put into production? Many hours can be used assessing, redesigning and implementing the necessary changes which may also be costly, while the machine sits idle instead of being ready for production. Where is the value in choosing a machine that is, in effect, a ticking time bomb waiting to injure one of the company’s employees and leave the company open to litigation?
To return to the points made about inertia and the absolute duty contained in PUWER, there is some recognition that companies have limited resources, and case history shows us that in the event of HSE investigating an incident, a plan showing where an organisation has come from, in terms of safety, and where it plans to be, can have a mitigating effect on the fines imposed.
Spiers Engineering Safety provide high quality PUWER inspection services.
Safe Machines, no accident.
To learn more about PUWER read our Guide: The ultimate guide to PUWER