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Frequently asked questions

General

What are the main requirements of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER)?

The main requirements are essentially that any risks to people's health and safety arising from the use of work equipment are prevented or controlled by:

  • selecting and providing the right equipment for the job
  • ensuring work equipment is safely used by trained people
  • inspecting and maintaining work equipment so it remains safe

These requirements must be met by employers, the relevant self-employed and by people who have control over work equipment. If you are self-employed and your work poses no risk to the health and safety of others, then health and safety law may not apply to you.  HSE has guidance to help you understand if the law applies. There are also other more detailed requirements in PUWER, for example compliance with European Community requirements and the guarding of dangerous parts. There are particular provisions in PUWER relating to mobile work equipment, woodworking machinery and power presses.

What is work equipment?

Work equipment is any machinery, appliance, apparatus, tool or installation for use at work, whether exclusively used at work or not. The scope of work equipment is therefore extremely wide.

What training is required to use work equipment?

Training must be sufficient to ensure that all people know how to competently use any equipment they use at work, without unnecessary risks to the health and safety of themselves or others. Training therefore depends on the task, and to what extent an employee already has relevant knowledge and experience. Individual training needs are likely to be greatest when a person is first recruited, although further training may also be required in any of the following examples:

  • if the work task and its associated risks change
  • if new technology or equipment is introduced
  • if the system of work changes

In many industrial sectors, there are well-recognised standards for training, whether delivered in-house or by external providers. These are often accompanied by some form of competence assessment to help ensure minimum standards of attainment. However, for many simple tasks, on-the-job training, which is locally assessed and backed up with simple records, will suffice. There will also be a need for refresher training to ensure that skills don't decline. Again, the nature and frequency of refresher training should be sufficient to ensure ongoing health and safety, so far as reasonably practicable.

Do I need training to prepare work equipment?

Yes. You need to be appropriately trained to prepare and check work equipment, but this doesn't always mean formal, certificated training. Often the work to prepare or check equipment prior to use can be carried out following manufacturer's instructions using basic skills and common sense. However, for certain types of equipment, there are well-recognised industry schemes that cover, for example, the mounting of abrasive wheels. There are also certain equipment-specific legal requirements (for example, the training of setters and people undertaking daily inspections on power presses, see: Safe use of power presses ACOP and Guidance).

Who should carry out maintenance?

Maintenance work should only be undertaken by those who are competent to do so, who have the necessary knowledge and experience to:

  • know what to look at
  • know what to look for
  • know what to do, and
  • be aware of, and able to avoid, unnecessary risks to themselves and others

In some cases, workers undertaking maintenance on certain types of equipment should have specific training which is relevant to that work (eg where they may encounter asbestos).

Do I have to keep a maintenance log?

There is no requirement to keep a maintenance log. However, it is recommended that employers keep records of maintenance for high-risk equipment. The law requires that, where a maintenance log exists, it should be kept up to date.

Why do I have to inspect work equipment?

As an employer, you are legally required to provide safe equipment for use in connection with your work. Where the safe of equipment depends on the installation conditions or is exposed to conditions causing deterioration liable to result in dangerous situations, you must inspect your equipment to identify whether it can be operated, adjusted and maintained safely. Doing this on a regular basis can help you detect any deterioration and take action before it results in any health and safety risk.

In a few cases - such as power presses working on cold metal (referred to in regulation 33 of PUWER) - the law requires inspection of certain aspects at prescribed intervals. Further guidance is available in: Safe use of power presses  ACOP and Guidance.

How often do I have to inspect work equipment?

Inspection frequencies depend on the type of work equipment, its use and the conditions to which it is exposed. This should be determined through:

  • risk assessment, taking full account of any manufacturer's recommendations
  • the advice of others, such as trade associations and consultants
  • other sources, such as published advice on health and safety

Different types of inspection include:

  • quick checks before use (eg the condition of electric cables on hand-held power tools, functional testing of brakes)
  • weekly checks (eg tyre pressures, presence of guarding, function of safety devices)
  • more extensive examinations, undertaken every few months or longer (eg the general condition of a ladder, close examination of a safety harness, portable appliance testing).

You should do what is necessary to ensure a reasonable level of safety with any item of work equipment.

What do I have to do when inspecting equipment?

Inspection procedures will differ, depending upon the equipment and the consequences of its failure. Inspections therefore need to be determined through risk assessment, which should take full account of any manufacturer's recommendations, the advice of others (such as trade associations and consultants) and other sources of information, such as published advice on health and safety. Inspection should be undertaken for the purpose of revealing any problems which will give rise to significant risk of injury. It is important that inspections concentrate on the safety-critical features, checking for general signs of damage and deterioration which could lead to significant personal injury.

What are the guarding standards for machinery?

The law requires that access to dangerous parts should be prevented, or the movement of dangerous parts stopped before a person enters the danger zone. 

New machinery must be designed and constructed in such a way as to prevent risks of contact which could lead to accidents. Machinery must, where risks persist, be fitted with guards or protective devices. However, these objectives can't always be completely met (eg part of the blade of a fully guarded circular saw necessarily remains accessible).

Both PUWER and the Machinery Directive set out a common hierarchy of protective measures that should be met to state-of-the-art protective standards for particular products. Lesser protective measures are only permitted by the Regulations / Directive where risk cannot be either averted by design or controlled by permanent physical features (such as effective guarding). Lesser protective measures include:

  • adjustable guards, jigs and push sticks
  • safe systems of work
  • warnings of residual risk

There are many European standards outlining acceptable levels of safety for new machinery. However these cannot be applied retrospectively to pre-1995 non-CE marked machinery. For such older machinery, the relevant standard was BS 5304:1988 'Code of practice for the safety of machinery', the text of which remains available from the British Standards Institution as a Published Document (PD 5304:2005).

Can I use a safe system of work instead of guarding?

In some restricted circumstances, a safe system of work may be an acceptable alternative to guarding, but only following an adequate risk assessment which fully justifies why the normal safeguards cannot be used - and after all alternative measures have been put in place to ensure safety. This should be authorised by the person in overall control of the work. Additional training, higher levels of supervision and other protective measures will almost certainly be required and need to be documented. Adopting safe systems of work cannot simply be used as an excuse for not using the safeguards provided by the manufacturer.

Can I operate machinery if I've taken medication?

This depends on various factors, including the nature of the medication and the task to be performed. The residual level of risk from operating some very well guarded machines may be so low that there is minimal risk of injury to the operator or others. However, in other cases - particularly with the use of lifting and mobile work equipment - a more cautious approach needs to be taken.

Advice should be sought from a medically qualified person (normally the person's own GP), particularly if the medication:

  • gives warnings about the operation of machinery, or
  • has significant side effects, which may affect alertness, concentration or response to danger

Does work equipment need to be marked with a safe working load?

Where the safe use of work equipment depends on it not being overloaded, markings or other indications of a safe working load (SWL) will be required (for example, storage racking, some containers used to hold goods or vehicles intended for carrying materials). SWL marking is mandatory for lifting equipment and accessories subject to the provisions of LOLER.

Are powered gates work equipment?

Many powered gates (and doors) are not 'work equipment' as defined by PUWER, but if present in a workplace, which can include car parks, will be subject to very similar safety and maintenance requirements (as required by Regulations 5 and 18 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. There will also be responsibilities for safety under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 towards non-employed persons (which may include the public). These may also apply in non-work places where powered gates are under the responsibility of a managing agent or landlord (but not those within a private domestic household).

The manufacture, supply and, in many cases installation, of powered gates and doors will be subject to the CE marking and safety requirements of the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. Further information on Powered Gates.

What requirements apply to pinspotter / pinsetter machines in bowling alleys?

Many of these machines when first installed were not safe, lacking adequate guarding to prevent contact with dangerous moving parts or falls from a height. Physical safety improvements will be necessary to ensure compliance with PUWER and Section 3 of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act, for both employee and public safety. Meanwhile effective steps should be taken to manage safety through training, supervision, and safe systems of work, while the risks are assessed and managed by permanent long term solutions. Further technical advice is available on these machines.

Updated: 2015-10-14