Is it safe? Choosing work equipment

choosing work equipmentThere are a range of laws, codes, guides and standards in place to ensure that the equipment provided for use at work is in a safe condition to use. The aim is to ensure that the purchaser receives equipment that is safe to use. There are separate regulations requiring that, once in place, such equipment is safely operated and maintained.

In this article the requirements relating to providing machinery at work will be considered.

In June 2007 there was a major fire at Aztec Aerosols, based in Crewe. At its height the fire covered an area equivalent to a full-sized football pitch. More than 100 firefighters and 25 fire engines were needed to extinguish the blaze.

The source of the fire was found to be an aerosol shedding machine, made by Pakawaste of Grimsargh, near Preston. The machine was being operated by Greenway Environmental Ltd. Both companies were prosecuted over the incident; Greenway Environment was prosecuted for failing to protect the safety of it employees and fined £37,000 plus £50,000 costs.

Pakawaste, however, was charged under Section 6 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (1974 Act) after it admitted failing to ensure the shredding unit was designed and constructed to be safe. The company was fined £50,000, with costs of £87,030.

Section 6 (1) (a) of the 1974 Act states: “It shall be the duty of any person who designs, manufactures, imports or supplies any article for use at work to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the article is so designed and constructed as to be safe and without risks to health when properly used.”

This section of the 1974 Act actually covers a wide range of “articles for use” at work, including chemicals. Since the introduction of the 1974 Act, developments in the European Union (EU) now mean that there are numerous EU Product Safety Directives. These identify the design and construction requirements of specific products and include machinery, electrical equipment, explosives, gas appliances, etc. A more comprehensive list can be found at the HSE website (

While the supporting regulations may be extensive, for the purchaser of equipment the key points are as follows.

Machinery suppliers

Under the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008 it is required that machinery:

  • Is safe when it is supplied
  • Has a Declaration of Conformity and that user instructions are supplied with the machine – in English
  • Has the designated CE mark on it.

The Declaration of Conformity identifies that the machine complies with the essential safety requirements of the Machinery Directive. These requirements must be met by the manufacturer when they place the machine into the EU market. Clearly, there may be agents or retailers who sell such machinery and act as intermediate suppliers, and they must ensure that any machinery they provide meets the requirements of s.6 of the 1974 Act. Those buying the equipment, have responsibilities to ensure such machinery is safely operated and maintained under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment (PUWER) Regulations 1998, as amended.

European dimension

In 2008, the EU introduced the Regulation on Accreditation and Market Surveillance. It was introduced because of concerns about inconsistencies in monitoring and enforcement in some Member States. The Regulation aims to improve the exchange of information and enforcement of the related Directives. It forms part of a new approach established in a New Legislative Framework, to make it easier for products to be marketed and circulated in the EU.

The Regulation requires Market Surveillance Authorities (MSAs) to be established in Member States and it establishes a set of minimum powers for the officers to enforce Product Safety Directives. As different Product Safety Directives are enforced by different government agencies, all the related agencies form the UK MSAs. These include Trading Standards, Ofcom and the Vehicle Certification Agency. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the MSA for safety standards for work equipment.

However, the HSE already had structures in place to improve its ability to monitor the safety of machinery being placed on the market. The key points are set out below.

  • The HSE has a central Safety Team that liaises with Product Safety Teams in their regional offices, as well as other Market Surveillance Authorities
  • When a defective machine is identified, other teams are notified and an investigation undertaken
  • While an inspector will take the appropriate action regarding defective machinery with the supplier, the details will be logged on a European database: the Information and Communication System for Market Surveillance (ICSMS). This ensures that where defective machines are identified in one Member State, awareness is raised throughout the EU MSAs
  • Should it be necessary, products can be withdrawn from the market, if modifications cannot be made

Some examples of the equipment the HSE has been involved with in its MSA role are:

  • Provision of lifts in tall wind turbine towers
  • Safety of UV tubes in tanning equipment
  • Research on platform lifts
  • Safety of industrial electric cables
  • Stability of scissor lifts
  • Safety and compliance of post driving machinery/attachments.

Issues likely to be considered in the future are:

  • Compliance of chainsaws that may be used by consumers or at work
  • Safety and compliance of firewood processing machinery/log splitters
  • Hygienic design/cleaning instructions for machinery processing foodstuffs
  • Powered gates and component parts for these gates.

The HSE also revised its safety alerts bulletins so that, where defective equipment is identified, the specific information can be quickly distributed. Safety alerts are for major faults that work equipmentwould result in a serious or fatal injury and where urgent corrective action is required.

For example, in February 2010 a man was killed when a piece of metal became detached from a modified strimmer, striking and killing a nearby worker. In March 2010 the HSE issued a safety alert that advised users of modified strimmers of the fatality and what to do. They also stated: “UK suppliers should immediately cease the supply of such chain flail attachments, whether or not intended for professional use.”

In September 2011, the European Commission required Member States to prohibit the use of such modified equipment.

At a European level, the New Legislative Framework is aimed at providing a more effective way of supporting free trade without compromising health and safety standards. Over the next few years a number of directives – not including the Machinery Directive – will be amended to come into line with the new approach.

While these changes at European level may be complicated, for users of machinery the principles are straightforward. They need to check that the machinery complies with EU standards; ensure that all the safeguards are present; and ensure that it is operated and maintained safely. The HSE is the MSA for machinery at work and so, should the standard of safety of a new machine be in question, it can act to ensure safe standards are correctly applied and report any relevant findings within a European information system.

Should you have any concerns about whether or not machinery you have bought meets legal standards, you should contact the HSE.

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