In this article
PUWER is the acronym used for The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 which came into force on 5 December 1998, and it exists to protect workers from unsafe machinery and other work equipment.
The PUWER regulations require risks to people’s health and safety from any equipment that they use in the course of their work, to be prevented or controlled. In other words, that work equipment is maintained safe for use, in a safe condition and suitable for the intended use.
Further examples of uses of work equipment which are covered by the PUWER regulations include:
- Starting or stopping.
Under PUWER, all high-risk work equipment requires a thorough examination by a competent trained person; lower-risk and simple work equipment items can be visually inspected in-house by experienced staff, providing they have received the required training and are competent.
Who does PUWER apply to?
Whether you are an employer, are self-employed, or if you supervise, manage or have control of the use of work equipment, the PUWER inspection regulations will apply to you. Whilst PUWER does not apply to those who are sellers of work equipment, it is the end users that are responsible; however, hirers or leasers of work equipment are responsible under PUWER.
The PUWER regulations apply to the provision of work equipment that is used by employees, workers, contractors, volunteers or lessees in the workplace, or work equipment used when working from home. PUWER regulations also apply should anyone else have use of or have access to that work equipment, for example cleaners.
In addition, if you permit your employees to provide and use their own equipment for use in the work environment, that equipment will also be covered by PUWER and you will need to make sure that any such equipment complies with the PUWER regulations.
All organisations that use or control work equipment, irrespective of their size or how many people they employ, have a legal obligation to comply with PUWER regulations.
These work environments include but are not limited to:
- Factories / workshops / plants.
- Care homes.
- Schools / colleges.
- Cinemas / theatres.
- Offshore installations.
- Construction sites.
- Common areas of shared buildings.
Types of work equipment that require inspecting under PUWER
Work equipment is generally defined as including any “machinery, appliance, apparatus or tool, assembly or components which work together to function as a whole”.
The definition is broad and includes, but is not limited to, work equipment such as:
- A vehicle supplied for use at work including, for example, cars, bicycles, motorcycles, buses, minibuses, vans, trucks, etc.
- A lift, automatic revolving door or escalator in a workplace building.
- Hand tools, including hammers, chisels, screwdrivers, spanners, knives, meat cleavers, saws, scissors, etc.
- Ladders, mobile scaffold platforms, towers, etc.
- Portable electrical equipment, that is equipment which is usually moved around, such as portable power tools, floor polishing machines, vacuums, kitchen appliances, heaters, etc.
- Fixed machines, including drilling machines, power presses, circular saws, photocopiers, vending machines, etc.
- Computers and display screen equipment.
- Lifting equipment – In addition to PUWER, The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) also apply to lifting equipment.
Exemptions from PUWER
The PUWER regulations do not, however, apply to equipment used by the general public such as petrol pumps or tyre pumps at filling stations, as these are covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSW).
PUWER is not applicable to equipment used by domestic workers in a private household, however, if the worker(s) is self-employed or employed by a contractor and they provide equipment to use, then the equipment is covered by the PUWER regulations.
The armed forces are also exempt from PUWER regulations.
Employers’ duties under PUWER
PUWER builds on the general duty of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA) to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees, and on the specific duty of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) to assess and control risks.
To comply with the PUWER regulations an employer who owns, operates or has control over work equipment has a duty to control any risks by:
- Ensuring that work equipment is suitable for use, and is used for the purpose and conditions in which it is intended to be used.
- Properly installing any fixed work equipment or machinery, including ensuring that any safeguards are in place.
- Producing a safe system of work for using and maintaining machinery and work equipment.
- Ensuring that, where necessary, work equipment is regularly inspected by a suitably competent person so it continues to be safe for use.
- Maintaining work equipment in good condition.
- Ensuring that people using, supervising or managing equipment are provided with appropriate information and training on use and safety.
- Taking account of working conditions and health and safety risks when selecting work equipment, for example flooring conditions, stairs and space.
- Keeping appropriate records.
A combination of these measures may be necessary depending on the requirements of the work, the assessment of the risks involved, and the practicability of these measures.
Employers and 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 ensure that a management system is in place for this as an integral part of other Health and Safety management practices.
Employers also have responsibilities for “dangerous parts” of work equipment under PUWER. Regulation 11 deals with dangerous parts of machinery.
It states that “employers must take measures to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery or to stop the movement of any dangerous machinery before any part of a person enters a danger zone. The danger zone is the area on or around machinery in which there is a risk of contact between a person and a dangerous machinery part”.
A “dangerous part” of machinery has been defined by the courts as “one which might be a reasonably foreseeable cause of injury to anyone acting in a way in which a human being might be reasonably expected to act in circumstances which might be reasonably expected to occur”.
Employees’ duties under PUWER
Employees do not have any specific duties under PUWER; however, they do have general duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, for example to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be affected by their actions, and to co-operate with others.
Whilst the employer is ultimately responsible for compliance with PUWER, there is provision in law to allocate responsibilities for PUWER compliance to duty holders, for example to employees who are departmental managers and/or engineering/maintenance managers. If this is the case, designated duty holders will also have a legal responsibility under PUWER.
First step in implementing PUWER
The very first step to take when implementing the PUWER regulations in an organisation is to create or, if your already have one, update your Assets Register.
A PUWER Assets Register should include details of plant and work equipment owned or leased by an organisation and should include the following information:
- Description of the asset: A general overview of the asset briefly explaining what it is. Some organisations assign codenames for their items, so having brief summaries makes identification easier.
- Owner of the asset: The asset owner may be the organisation, an employee or a leasing company.
- Date of purchase: The date when the asset officially became the organisation’s property, if applicable.
- Location of the asset: A description of the asset’s location on the organisation’s premises/site.
- The asset user: An individual or a group of individuals with permission to use the asset to carry out their corresponding responsibilities.
- The manufacturer’s warranty information: This contains the asset’s original manufacturer’s details that guarantee the asset’s condition upon purchase. Information may include how long the asset is eligible for return or exchange.
- Maintenance information: This may detail the instructions on repairing the asset, and/or a history of its repairs or replacements. It may also include the list of individuals who conducted repairs on the asset and the receipts for these professionals’ services.
It is crucial to know which and how many pieces of work equipment and machinery you have on your premises that need to be assessed. Once you have this list you can then see how many machines are the same so that you can group them together when it comes to the inspections.
Next step is training. The PUWER regulations state that “Every employer shall ensure that all persons who use work equipment have received adequate training for purposes of health and safety, including training in the methods which may be adopted when using the work equipment, any risks which such use may entail and precautions to be taken.
Every employer shall ensure that any of his employees who supervises or manages the use of work equipment has received adequate training for purposes of health and safety, including training in the methods which may be adopted when using the work equipment, any risks which such use may entail and precautions to be taken.”
What constitutes ‘adequate training’ will vary depending on the job or activity and work equipment. At a minimum, all employees should undertake Health and Safety at Work training as part of their induction or on-boarding process. Before working and handling any sort of machine, it is mandatory that the person must be competent to use it, therefore training must be provided on safe operating procedures (SOPs).
Anyone carrying out the PUWER risk assessments and/or PUWER inspections should also have undertaken adequate training. The Asset Register will help to inform you of how many risk assessments and inspections need to be completed, so you can determine how many PUWER risk assessors and/or inspectors will need to be trained.
You may decide to outsource inspections depending upon the size and complexity of the task. Your employees could shadow the external inspector so as to improve their knowledge and to help manage any actions the inspections highlight.
Anyone who is involved in purchasing work equipment should undertake training and guidance in terms of the safety requirements of any equipment to be purchased.
Employers are also required to provide refresher training as and when necessary, for example after an extended period of absence from work, when someone infrequently deputises for others or when someone moves to another role involving the use of different work equipment.
All training records relating to PUWER should be available for HSE inspections.
PUWER risk assessment
Risk assessments are an absolute requirement under health and safety legislation including PUWER.
Risk assessments are designed to ensure employers have adequately considered the things that can go wrong in the workplace and should take into account:
For PUWER risk assessments it is important to understand the difference between a risk and a hazard:
- A hazard – Is any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects on something or someone.
- A risk – Is the chance – High, medium or low – Of somebody being harmed by the hazard, and how serious the harm could be.
There are five simple steps you should follow to carry out a risk assessment:
- Step 1: Identify the hazards.
- Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how.
- Step 3: Evaluate the risks – the likelihood of them happening and the potential harm if they do happen, and decide on precautions.
- Step 4: Record your findings and implement them, keeping all records as these will be required for inspections.
- Step 5: Review your assessment and update as necessary.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) advocate that prevention is the preferable course of action following risk assessments and suggest the following:
- Avoid the risk completely – Change the design, equipment or the process.
- Substitute – Use less hazardous materials or equipment.
- Minimise – Limit exposure to individuals, perhaps by job rotation.
- General control measures – Guarding, barriers or warning systems.
- PPE – The last resort because it protects only the individual.
When conducting risk assessments, the assessor should take into account the information that is available for the type(s) of risks involved, including:
- Any regulations.
- Any associated Approved Code of Practice (ACoP).
- Good practice guidance.
- The organisation’s own health and safety policy.
- The people using the equipment.
Employers with five or more employees have a legal duty to record risk assessments in writing.
You should then set a date for review to check whether the risk assessment is still appropriate following, for example, any:
- Changes in working practices.
- New equipment.
- Changes in legislation.
Regulations and legislation that are associated with PUWER
Three Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs) support and back up the PUWER regulations.
- Safe Use of Work Equipment.
- Safe Use of Woodworking Machinery.
- Safe Use of Power Presses.
Although ACoPs are not law, they have special legal status in respect to PUWER.
Also associated with PUWER are:
- The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER).
- The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR).
What is a PUWER inspection?
Regulation 6 of PUWER specifies the requirement to complete suitable inspection and maintenance on all work equipment. A PUWER inspection can be either a visual inspection or a thorough examination with an element of testing. It must be carried out by a competent person and a record made and maintained, highlighting any defects found and the remedial actions required and subsequently taken.
Equipment must be fully inspected and tested at installation and prior to first use in order to ensure it has been installed correctly and is safe to use. A schedule of future inspection and maintenance must then be put in place in accordance with PUWER and any other applicable legislation, taking into consideration your risk assessment findings and the manufacturer’s recommendations in terms of equipment inspection and maintenance intervals.
There must also be robust change management procedures in place to ensure appropriate PUWER inspections are triggered for any new or repurposed work equipment.
There are various stakeholders who should be consulted during the PUWER inspection. The resulting actions and the design and implementation of business processes should be linked to PUWER.
These stakeholders include but are not limited to:
- Equipment operators / users.
- Supervisors / managers.
- Safety representatives.
Inspection intervals depend on the equipment type, the associated risks and the particular work environment it is used in, as this may cause more rapid deterioration. For example, equipment used outdoors may require more frequent inspection due to weather corrosion factors.
For some work equipment, more frequent inspections than are necessary can lead to equipment failure. This is particularly an issue for safety devices such as emergency stop buttons, which can often be over-tested.
The difference between a visual inspection and a thorough examination
A visual inspection is where the equipment is visually checked for any obvious external deterioration and also to make sure that all equipment parts that ensure the safe operation such as guarding, are in good condition. This is not normally an in-depth check and is generally carried out more frequently than thorough examinations.
Thorough examinations comprise of a full functional check, usually with an element of testing involved. For equipment covered under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER), thorough examination inspections tend to be carried out less frequently due to the invasive nature of the inspection as this could potentially cause damage to the equipment, therefore increasing the risk of unsafe conditions developing over time.
PUWER requires that records are kept for the inspection, service and maintenance of plant and equipment. It is also good practice to keep records of training, Asset Registers, risk assessments, corresponding action plans and details of any accidents or incidents pertaining to PUWER, and to have these to hand should the HSE conduct an inspection.
Periods of retention of these records either legal or recommended vary:
- Test and inspections – A legal requirement, records kept until next test / inspection; however, it may be beneficial to keep this information for the life of the equipment to provide a service history.
- Risk assessments – A legal requirement, records kept until next assessment.
- Accident, incident – A legal requirement, records kept for 3 years.
- Safety training – Recommended, records kept for 3 years (or for the duration of any certificate) then as per the policy of organisation.
Who enforces PUWER?
Health and Safety (HSE) Inspectors are responsible for enforcing PUWER.
They conduct proactive and reactive inspections and they have the following legal powers to:
- Enter your premises.
- Examine and investigate.
- Stop work.
- Take samples, measurements and photographs.
- Dismantle and remove articles and substances.
- Take possession of articles and substances.
- Question you.
- Review, take copies of and require the production of any books or documents.
- Caution you.
- Issue enforcement and/or prohibition notices, legally stopping work from continuing.
- Initiate prosecutions.
If you have not followed PUWER regulations with a piece of work equipment, it is liable to be given an improvement or prohibition notice following a HSE inspection. The health and safety inspector will specify a period for compliance of no less than 21 days. They will discuss with the duty holder what actions they can take to comply with PUWER.
If the duty holder fails to comply with this notice, it may be upgraded to a prohibition notice. This notice will prohibit the use of the work equipment until the matters giving rise to the inspector’s concerns have been remedied. Should the concerns remain unremedied, the inspector could seek prosecution.
In the case of PUWER, an improvement notice is given to a piece of work equipment if it is badly maintained, damaged, or has not undergone the adequate inspections and risk assessment. It may also be served a notice if an inspector feels there are not adequate systems in place to ensure its continued maintenance.
In 2019/20, according to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), 147 workers were killed at work, 581,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury, 69,208 employees reported non-fatal injuries to employers under RIDDOR and 4.7 million estimated working days were lost due to non-fatal workplace injuries.
Fines resulting from prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive where a conviction was achieved amounted to £54.5 million; many were for non-compliance with PUWER regulations.