Training and competence

All people using equipment at work must be adequately trained to ensure health and safety in its use, supervision or management. Some work activities require detailed formal training but, for most everyday activities involving work equipment, adequate training can be delivered in-house using the manufacturer's instructions and the background knowledge / skills of more experienced workers and managers.

People should be competent for the work they undertake. Training, along with knowledge, experience and skill, helps develop such competence. However, competence may (in some cases) necessarily include medical fitness and physical / mental aptitude for the activity.

What you must do

Employers must 'ensure that all persons who use work equipment have received adequate training for the purposes of health and safety, including training in the methods which may be adopted when using work equipment, and risks which such use may entail and the precautions to be taken.' (PUWER regulation 9). There is a similar duty to ensure adequate training in relation to supervisory and managerial staff.

It is not possible to detail here what constitutes 'adequate training', as requirements will vary according to:

  • the job or activity
  • the existing competence of workers
  • the circumstances of the work (eg degree of supervision)
  • the work equipment etc

The training standard required should be adequate in ensuring the health and safety of your workers and any people who may be affected by the work, so far as reasonably practicable.

However, the general PUWER Approved Code of Practice and guidance specifically mentions two situations imposing minimum training obligations, in relation to:

Chainsaw operators:

'All workers who use a chainsaw should be competent to do so. Before using a chainsaw to carry out work on or in a tree, a worker should have received appropriate training and obtained a relevant certificate of competence or national competence award, unless they are undergoing such training and are adequately supervised. However, in the agricultural sector, this requirement only applies to first-time users of a chainsaw.'

Driver training:

'You should ensure that self-propelled work equipment, including any attachments or towed equipment, is only driven by workers who have received appropriate training in the safe driving of such work equipment.'

In connection with lift trucks, a further Approved Code of Practice and guidance (ACOP) supporting PUWER, Rider-operated lift trucks: Operator training, specifies that:

'Employers should not allow anyone to operate, even on a very occasional basis, lift trucks within the scope of this ACOP who have not satisfactorily completed basic training and testing as described in this ACOP, except for those undergoing such training under adequate supervision.' The guidance accompanying this ACOP mentions three stages of training: 'basic', 'specific job' and 'familiarisation'.

The Rider-operated lift trucks ACOP also requires those providing the training to have undergone appropriate training in instructional techniques and skills assessment, together with sufficient industrial experience and knowledge of working environments to put their instruction in context.

There are also specific training requirements made in the ACOPs relating to woodworking machinery Publication and power presses Publication.

What you should know

The duty to provide training under PUWER (regulation 9) builds upon the general obligation under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act and the additional requirements on capabilities and training, under regulation 13 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

The ACOPs in the above section that support these Regulations have a special status in law and give practical guidance on how to meet the law, including the obligation for providing training, both in general and in relation to the specific activities highlighted. Following ACOP guidance gives a presumption that you are doing enough to comply with the law in these areas, though you may use alternative methods that provide similar risk reduction measures to comply with the law.

Training should take place during working hours and be at no cost to the employee. If it is necessary for training to take place outside the employee's normal working hours, this should be treated as an extension of their time at work.

Who can provide training?

All those providing training on the use of any work equipment should be sufficiently skilled and competent. The degree of skill, knowledge and competence to do so will depend on many factors, including the nature of the work equipment and the risks it poses.

Employers will need to establish what training is appropriate in each particular circumstance; for example the relevant trade association may be able to advise and have training schemes in place for some work activities. For many areas, industry-recognised, externally-provided training on the use of work equipment (eg for mounting abrasive wheels, or the operation of construction plant) is available from a wide range of organisations. Suggestions for finding suitable training providers and courses are available in HSE's Health and safety training: A brief guide.

However, as long as training is provided competently and to the standard necessary to ensure health and safety, there is no bar to training being given by competent in-house staff. In these cases, it is desirable that those providing the training have some skill and aptitude to undertake training, with sufficient industrial experience and knowledge of the working environment to put their instruction in context. They should also have the ability to assess the skills attained.

Training for young people

Training and proper supervision of young workers is important because of their relative immaturity and lack of familiarity with the working environment. Induction training is of particular importance. There are no general age restrictions in PUWER relating to the use of work equipment, although there are some restrictions in the ACOPs covering lifting, power presses, woodworking machinery Publication, and fork lift trucks Publication, and there are also some other prohibitions and limitations, particularly in agriculture (see Prohibitions and limitations for young people at work). Risk assessments should consider carefully the training needs of young people, taking into account their inexperience, lack of awareness of potential risks and their immaturity, to determine whether they should undertake certain work activities. Young people must be protected from certain activities (eg noise and vibration arising from the use of work equipment).

Provision and methods of training

Training and the techniques used can vary and may include (as appropriate to the risk, complexity of the task, equipment and existing competence of staff):

  • self study, eg reading manufacturer's instructions
  • simple in-house instruction and demonstration, with supervision
  • formal in-house training, provided by competent, qualified or experienced staff often coupled with some form of documented competence assessment
  • externally provided training (usually with a competence assessment), provided by competent, suitably qualified people

For further guidance, see: Effective health and safety training: A trainer's resource pack.

Training may be undertaken on or off the job (whether at the workplace or elsewhere) but should normally take place within working hours and at no cost to the employee.

Training may need to be refreshed at suitable intervals to ensure workers remain competent. Changes in work equipment, the system of work or the introduction of new equipment may all require additional training to ensure health and safety.

Competence and competent people who examine work equipment

All people using work equipment or supervising / managing its use should be sufficiently competent to do so safely. Competence may include, in some cases, minimum medical fitness (eg for driving vehicles) and either or both physical and mental aptitude (eg the ability to climb and work at height to operate a tower crane), as well as knowledge and skill. 'Competence' is not defined although, for some work tasks (such as woodworking and operating power presses), there are minimum training requirements which will assist in gaining sufficient competence to undertake tasks safely and without risk to health.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations use the term 'competent person' in relation to providing help in complying with health and safety law. See: A competent person for further information. The recently launched Occupational Health and Safety Consultants Register (OSHCR) can help businesses find competent help in managing their health and safety.

The term 'competent person' is also used in certain legislation, including LOLER and PUWER in the context of conducting a 'thorough examination' (eg of lifting equipment and power presses). Although 'competent person' is not defined in law, the ACOPs to PUWER and LOLER broadly describe the attributes of a competent person for undertaking thorough examinations:

'You should ensure that the person carrying out a thorough examination has such appropriate practical and theoretical knowledge and experience of the ... equipment to be thoroughly examined as will enable them to detect defects and to assess their importance in relation to the safety and continued use of the ... equipment.'

Organisations employing competent people, and those working independently, meet this definition in a number of ways, through training, continuous professional development (CPD), assessment and reassessment. Independent bodies like the Safety Assessment Federation (SAFed) represent many organisations undertaking statutory thorough examinations and inspections, promoting high standards by competent people in undertaking this work.

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Updated: 2022-09-02