POWER to be PUWER We regularly hear about accidents in our industry – most of the more serious ones normally involve the machines we use on a daily basis. If a machine has caused a serious injury then a visit from the HSE can be expected. Generally if a machine has been involved then it has been either insufficiently guarded or it has been used or maintained incorrectly. This usually means that a prosecution under PUWER ’98 (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998) is a possibility.PUWER ’98 is the key regulation under UK law when it comes to machine safety, and many prosecutions are made each year despite it being in place since 1998, which itself replaced an earlier version.So why after all this time are people still getting hurt or killed and others being prosecuted, and what can be done about it?There is not one answer but several, such as:The level of danger was not appreciated – perhaps because either a PUWER assessment was not completed or was not “suitable and sufficient” – a phrase the HSE often quote to mean the person who did the assessment was either not competent or was negligent. A PUWER risk assessment can be a complex process depending upon the type of equipment and the risks associated with it. Remember as well that a PUWER assessment needs to look at the operation of the machine as well as the engineering, setting etc, including inside the electrical panels – electricians can (and do) get injured as well. Depending upon the size of your operation and its resources you could consider training or retraining your staff in PUWER assessments.The need for remedial action was known, but the business could not afford it – often there are solutions that are not expensive that will significantly reduce the risk either permanently or at least reduce the risk until a permanent fix can be applied.Think also that if a remedial action is going to be out of the question for some time rather than leave people (and yourself) at risk – think risk reduction.Remedial action was put in place but it failed to prevent the accident. From our experience it is quite common for a guard (for example) to be fitted that actually does not deny access to the danger. Had it been designed or fitted differently then it would have given the required protection and would have been the approximately same cost or even cheaper than what was actually fitted! There are around thirty British Standards that have a practical relevance to our industry (probably hundreds if you want to be pedantic). These standards give technical guidance on what needs to be done. If these standards are fully adopted they can offer some defence if an accident occurs and someone gets hurt. Do be aware – adopting one standard on its own is no defence, it is only when all of the relevant standards have been adopted is there any defence to be had.The poor operation or maintenance was a large contributory element. These fall into three broad categories: The training was not sufficient.The behaviour of the individual allowed or even caused the accidentLine management “allowed” the circumstances to occur.With the everyday pressures it’s quite easy to miss out on changes to regulations and best practice. It’s common for a company to fall behind in certain areas and fail to recognise what training is needed for it’s staff.
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