In March, and just three days before the UK lockdown over Coronavirus, EGL Homecare Limited (of Campfield Road, Shoeburyness) pleaded guilty to a breach of Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 (see www.is.gd/yemira).
Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard that an agency worker at EGL Homecare Limited suffered a severe crush injury to his arm on 19 June 2019 as he attempted to remove dirt from a press roller at the address on Campfield Road, Shoeburyness. He was working on a production line that glued sponge to abrasive sheets to make scourer sponges. His job was to remove the sheets of scourer sponges from the conveyor on to a pallet when his right hand got dragged into the nip point of two in-running rollers up to his shoulder. The worker was diagnosed with forearm compartment syndrome, had an operation on his arm and had to stay in hospital for six days.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company failed to provide a tunnel guard on the press roller to prevent access to the rollers. Regulation 11 relates to ‘dangerous parts of machinery’ (www.is.gd/wawafi) and the company was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,314.08.
Of course, time has since moved on and lockdown restrictions due to Coronavirus are now being eased across the UK, with people beginning to return to working life and what is described as the ‘new normal’.
Dr Karen McDonnell, occupational safety and health policy adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), says: “Since the beginning of lockdown much has changed – people are home working or on furlough, and messages about good hygiene and social distancing have become part of our daily conversations.
“However in the pre- and post-Covid world, the PUWER regulations and their enforcement remain a constant. Their application to fixed machinery, mobile work equipment and power presses does, if anything, become magnified as the phased return [to working life] post-lockdown begins.”
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 are often abbreviated to PUWER. They replaced the original PUWER regulations introduced in 1992 and deal with the work equipment and machinery used every day in workplaces, such as factories, construction sites, farms, hospitals, offices and shops – wherever equipment and machinery is used at work.
“PUWER places a duty on individuals and companies who either own, operate or have control over work equipment,” explains Tariva Thomas, senior associate at solicitors Wright Hassall. “By its nature, it is a very wide ranging and all-encompassing piece of legislation and it is important that individuals and companies who fall within the parameters of the legislation have a good grip of what the regulations require of them. At a basic level, PUWER requires that any equipment which is provided for use at a workplace is: suitable for the intended use; safe for use; maintained and inspected to guard against any deterioration; used by workers or employees who have been adequately trained to use the equipment; and accompanied by any additional health and safety measures.
“A common misconception often arises around what constitutes work equipment – and it is this misconception that can lead to prosecution. Once again, this is very wide; work equipment is categorised as any machinery, apparatus, appliance or tool which is installed for use at work. The installation need not be permanent and does include temporary installations. The scope therefore is as wide ranging as is the manner in which the legislation is interpreted. For example, the use of this work equipment means any activity including starting, stopping, programming, setting, transporting, repairing, modifying, maintaining, servicing and cleaning. When you put this into the context of a large or small company you will quickly see that this has applications across the board and requires understanding at a staff level and managerial level.”
HSE’s Approved Code of Practice and Guidance (see box) further explains that the regulations apply to work activities throughout the whole of Great Britain and also apply to offshore installations such as oil rigs and gas supply platforms. The groups covered by PUWER, it adds, are employers, the self-employed and the equipment they control or use, and those who are employed to supervise or manage the use of equipment operated by others.
It is also incorrect to believe that PUWER only applies to large businesses and big organisations. Anyone who uses or controls work equipment has to follow the regulations. They do not, however, apply to those who have supplied or sold equipment. Instead, it’s up to the equipment purchaser to ensure that it is specified, installed and used so that it does not present a risk to those at work.
The overall aim of the regulations is to make working life safer for everyone using and coming into contact with equipment. This includes employees and employers, contractors and suppliers.
As mentioned earlier, it requires that equipment provided for use at work is suitable for the intended use, as well as safe, maintained and inspected. Furthermore, PUWER requires that equipment is used only by people who have adequate information and training; accompanied by suitable health and safety measures, such as protective devices and controls; and used in accordance with any specific requirements.
Some work equipment is subject to other legislation in addition to PUWER, the HSE notes – for example, lifting equipment must also meet the requirements of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER).
“Returning to work post-lockdown is amplifying all health and safety legislation and obligations,” states Thomas. “However, it is likely that the HSE will focus more than ever on compliance with PUWER as many machines and equipment will have laid dormant for months. It is important that companies and those in management roles adequately test, risk assess and if necessary, re-train staff on machinery and equipment to ensure their employees’ safety, but also to safeguard against liability.”
McDonnell echoes these words: “Many organisations ceased working on or around 23 March, and employees spending the last few weeks in their ‘new normal’ distanced from the hazards and risks associated with work equipment. Work equipment mothballed for weeks is now being brought back into operation, likely involving a re-design of the workplace to allow for social distancing.
“While starting with a blank sheet of paper might not be an option, there is an opportunity for employers to reconsider the suitability of the work equipment they provide and their maintenance and inspection regimes, and refresh procedures underpinned by risk assessment.
“And given we are being asked to risk-assess in consultation with employees, now’s a great time to have a fresh conversation with them about work equipment as they re-familiarise themselves with the world of work. Accidents involving work equipment don’t have to happen.”
BOX OUT: Additional information