Regardless of what type of work you do or where your workplace is situated, you will be required to use some form of equipment to complete your daily duties. Work equipment is a vast category, including desktop computers, stepladders, tools, heavy machinery, or vehicles.
The legal responsibilities of both employers and employees in the UK are outlined under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER). Under PUWER legislation, employers must account for all equipment used in the workplace and put in place systems to ensure the safe usage of all work equipment.
Additionally, employers must conduct regular risk assessments of all work equipment to make certain that it has been installed correctly, is operating as it should be, and is being used in the proper manner. Without a good understanding of their obligations under PUWER, employers and employees put themselves at greater risk from accidents and injuries and can face severe penalties for non-compliance.
In this article, we will look at an employer’s legal duties under PUWER risk assessment guidelines, what responsibilities employees have and provide you with an in-depth overview of PUWER itself.
What is PUWER & Why Is It Important?
PUWER was enacted into UK law on the 5th of December 1998. PUWER can be seen as an extension of the obligations contained in the Health & Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) as well as the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR). These acts all cover the general responsibilities of both employers and employees in relation to health and safety in the workplace.
PUWER, however, differs from these pieces of legislation as it specifically addresses the risks posed by machinery and other equipment used daily in the workplace. The main aim of PUWER is to prevent accidents, injuries, and fatalities by ensuring that all equipment used in the workplace is maintained correctly, safe for use, and being used as intended.
What Workplaces Does PUWER Apply To?
Although it is a commonly held belief that PUWER only applies to large organisations or businesses, this is not the case. PUWER regulations are applicable to any work activities undertaken anywhere in the UK.
Regardless of the size of a business or how many people are employed, any organisation that uses work equipment has an obligation to follow PUWER guidelines. This obligation includes self-employed persons, volunteers, contractors, and even lessees. Employees working from home also fall under the scope of PUWER.
It should be noted that PUWER does not apply to equipment that is used by members of the public – for example, petrol pumps. Public use of equipment is covered under the HSWA.
Likewise, PUWER does not apply to sellers of work equipment. When equipment is sold, the responsibility falls onto the purchaser of the equipment to ensure that it meets PUWER requirements.
The armed forces are not required to follow PUWER regulations. Domestic workers using or operating equipment in a private household are also exempt (unless the worker is self-employed or hired by a contractor that provides work equipment).
Work Equipment Covered Under PUWER
No matter where you are working, all equipment used must be controlled according to PUWER regulations.
The definition of work equipment is incredibly broad and is defined under PUWER by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as: ‘…any machinery, appliance, apparatus, tool or installation for use at work (whether exclusively or not).’ This definition also includes equipment provided by employees for use at work.
Examples of work equipment covered include:
- All display screen equipment
- Printers, scanners, photocopiers, and fax machines
- Vending machines
- Portable electrical equipment such as power tools, vacuums, floor polishing equipment, kitchen appliances, heaters, and so on
- Work vehicles such as cars, motorcycles, buses, minibuses, vans, trucks, and bicycles
- Lifts, revolving doors, or escalators
- Hand tools
- Ladders and scaffolding
- Fixed industrial machines such as drills, power presses, and circular saws
- Various types of lifting equipment, which are also covered under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER)
What Is a PUWER Risk Assessment?
One of the key aspects of implementing PUWER is to ensure that all equipment used in the workplace undergoes a full risk assessment. Risk assessments are a legal requirement under PUWER and must be performed by a trained and competent person, a consultant, or an authorised third party, as directed by the HSE.
The main aim of a risk assessment is to identify all possible risks and hazards in the workplace. In a PUWER risk assessment, a ‘hazard’ is defined as anything that is the source of potential harm to a thing or person. A ‘risk’ is defined as the chance of a person being harmed by a hazard.
A risk assessment should include not only the equipment being used, but also employees using the equipment or in its vicinity, members of the public, the work environment and the operating procedures. Consideration must also be given to any existing regulations relating to work duties or equipment, associated Approved Codes of Practice (ACoP), and the organisation’s existing health and safety policies.
Typically, a PUWER risk assessment is comprised of five separate steps:
- Identify any hazards in the workplace
- Identify any persons who may be harmed by these hazards
- Evaluate the risks posed by the hazards
- Implement adequate control measures based on your assessment
- Record your findings and what you have done
- Review of the risk assessment periodically
Employer Duties Under PUWER Risk Assessment
Employers are legally required to ensure, as far as is reasonable, the welfare, health and safety of their employees, as stipulated in the HSWA. These requirements include employee safety when using equipment at work.
Employers are also required to ensure that all employees receive adequate training on how to use work equipment and the risks associated with both the equipment used and the workplace environment.
To fully comply with PUWER, employers must make certain that:
- All work equipment is appropriate for the intended process
- All work equipment is safe to be used as intended
- Regular maintenance is carried out
- Safety inspections are performed regularly
- Employees operating work equipment have received sufficient health and safety training
- All work equipment is fitted with suitable warning signs, marks, safety guards or bars
Employees Duties Under PUWER Risk Assessment
Employees do not have legal duties under PUWER. However, HSWA does place a legal duty on them. This includes things such as ensuring they look out for the health and safety of themselves and others. They must also co-operate with their employer in meeting legislative requirements.
What Is a PUWER Risk Assessment Checklist?
Because the HSE definitions of work equipment are so broad, it can be difficult for employers to ensure that they are compliant with PUWER and have appropriate controls and procedures in place. Using a PUWER Risk assessment checklist can help employers to stay up to date with their records and make sure that all equipment has been inspected and evaluated regularly.
A digital PUWER risk assessment checklist can streamline the process of mandatory work equipment inspections. These systems greatly reduce the chance of human error and make it easier for businesses and organisations to demonstrate compliance with all PUWER regulations. You can find effective and easy to use digital health and safety checklists on the Human Focus website.
What Happens If I Don’t Do A PUWER Risk Assessment?
It is always in the best interests of any business or organisation to make sure they fully comply with all PUWER regulations. Compliance will ensure that your employees and the general public stay safe from harm or injury.
Additionally, heavy penalties are associated with non-compliance with PUWER regulations and associated health and safety legislation such as HSWA, LOLER, and MHSWR. These penalties can include heavy fines, criminal charges, even imprisonment.
PUWER regulations are enforced by HSE inspectors, who are empowered to examine and investigate any and all relevant equipment and records in your workplace. If necessary, HSE inspectors can halt operations to take measurements, samples or photographs. They may also dismantle, remove and take possession of any articles or substances.
They may question employers and employees and issue enforcement and/or prohibition notices, and can also legally stop work from continuing to initiate prosecution proceedings.
How to Find Further Information and Training
If you are interested in furthering your knowledge on PUWER or any other associated health and safety issues, you can find a wealth of information via these sources:
- HSE official website
- Institution of Occupational Safety and Health
- British Safety Council
- Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
Further health and safety training can be easily accessed online via the Human Focus website. Human Focus offers a range of affordable and fully accredited health and safety courses, including: