PUWER Compliance: 8 Questions to Ask Operators & Supervisors

compliance with PUWER

If you find yourself worried about compliance with PUWER, you’re not alone. Our research shows that some 57% of health and safety managers lack confidence in demonstrating compliance.

This figure might not surprise you. The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) are extensive. They apply to everything from office stationery to nuclear technology. PUWER is also risk-based, meaning employers must assess their systems and equipment to determine how it can be made safe.

Compliance with PUWER is all about asking the right questions to pinpoint the gaps in your PUWER strategy. This blog identifies the questions you should be asking – and why.

But first, where specifically do challenges arise?

Three common pain points we identified included:

  1. Fully grasping risks in complex systems
  2. Shouldering accountability for overseeing PUWER processes
  3. Communicating risk and actioning change

Our white paper discusses these pain points in detail: PUWER: Avoiding Prosecution Nightmares.

The report identifies health and safety professionals’ leading challenges in complying with PUWER and should be read alongside this blog. You can download your free copy here.

Now that we’ve identified the key issues let’s consider the 8 questions you should be asking. These will help to pinpoint the gaps in your PUWER strategy and signpost your path to compliance.

Q1 – Does Everyone Understand the PUWER Legal Framework?

A deep understanding of how the regulations apply to your work environment and equipment is critical. So, the first question is, “Do I fully understand the legal framework of PUWER?”

Awareness isn’t enough. Managers must understand procurement and self-certification processes if required, as well as PUWER assessment, inspections and documentation procedures. If your PUWER understanding is narrow or equipment-specific, it’s impossible to comply fully as some areas will be lacking.

As one health and safety manager aptly stated:

“PUWER is a common one where people get prosecuted – it’s simply because they have not done what they should in terms of the regulations.”

Q2 – Is Your Equipment Compliant with Existing Health and Safety Standards?

Good evidence of PUWER compliance proves that your equipment meets conformity standards. Safely supplied equipment comes with a declaration of conformity (DoC) and is CE or UKCA-marked. It’s not often this simple, however.

DoC are only valid if you use the machinery precisely as intended. So ask yourself, is that the case in your workplace? Non-certified modifications, like removing guards or adding aftermarket components not specified for that equipment, nullify the DoC. At this point, you may be required to self-certify the equipment.

Another common issue arises with outdated machinery. Equipment that pre-dates certification may have no available paperwork, making proving compliance difficult. Imported equipment is similar, as the UK’s robust health and safety standards are not shared globally.

It’s best to identify and rectify these shortfalls before it’s too late.

Q3 – Are You Accurately Identifying Your Equipment Hazards?

Under PUWER, you must identify and control all potential hazards your equipment presents – and provide evidence you have done so. But this may be easier said than done.

Consider an anecdote one expert related. An inexperienced risk assessor conducted an assessment of large manufacturing equipment. They note the immediate hazards – moving parts or sharp edges – and consider it a job done and file the paperwork.

However, a closer inspection revealed that the underside of the equipment was scalding hot. There was also evidence operators were climbing on top of the equipment during operation. Two hazards, temperature and work at height, are entirely missed and not controlled.

Ensuring your staff have the competency and tools to conduct thorough risk assessments is another key to ensuring compliance.

PUWER Assessor Training

Our PUWER Assessor training provides a complete understanding of how a competent person under Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 can accomplish their responsibilities. It covers important areas such as the legal responsibilities of manufacturers, employers, and equipment appropriateness with safety standards.

Q4 – Have You Involved the ‘In-House’ Experts?

Health and safety experts get that knowledge sits at the sharp end. Routinely using equipment gives operators an intimate knowledge of hazards and a hands-on understanding of how risk controls interact. This insight means that operators must be involved in the risk assessment process.

Our health and safety consultant offered another snippet to reinforce this point. One piece of heavy machinery had its emergency shutdown switch positioned to the operator’s right. This was fine for the majority of workers since most were right-handed. However, the extra second it would take for a left-handed operator to reposition themselves and reach the emergency shutdown could be catastrophic.

Your frontline workers are your internal experts. Are they involved in determining the risk controls? Identify if they are working? Feedback on issues they identify?

PUWER - In-House Experts

Demonstrable frontline involvement is an essential piece to proper PUWER management.

Q5 – How Have You Balanced Your Risk Controls?

Applying the hierarchy of controls seems like a simple process. You go through the levels and determine what works best. But it is rarely this simple in practice. The control systems you choose must be weighed against factors such as how easily they can be applied and the additional hazards they may create.

Consider machinery with numerous hazardous moving parts. To make it as safe as possible for the operator, you can apply a variety of guards: fixed guards, interlocked guards, adjustable guards, self-adjusting guards, presence-sensing guards, etc.

However, when the equipment requires maintenance, each guard must be disabled so the engineer can access that equipment. By increasing the controls to protect the operator, you’ve increased the complexity of the task for the engineer.

Q6 – Are Risk Assessments Making Your Workplace Safer?

Questions so far have revolved around making risk assessments comprehensive. Details obviously matter and any HSE inspector will expect to see everything covered. But the fear of non-compliance can make assessors go overboard. So much gets packed into assessments or inspection reports they become irrelevant and unworkable.

And as one health and safety expert stated:

“If I held up a risk assessment as protection from a vehicle barrelling towards me, the driver’s going straight through, no matter how detailed the assessment is.”

The takeaway is risk assessments are a communication tool. The aim isn’t to complete the document but to use it. Yes, risk assessments prove compliance, but they should also instruct workers on the hazards they face and how to make them safe. Ask yourself, how straightforward are your own risk assessment processes? Is the documentation simple and easy to follow?

If an HSE inspector showed up, is it clear your documentation is being used? Or is it filed away in a drawer that no one ever opens?

Q7 – Is Your Documentation Current to Your Worksite?

Risk assessments must be updated regularly. But there are two common misunderstandings of what ‘regular’ means – both of which have profound implications for safety and compliance.

The worst interpretation is thinking risk assessments are valid until something goes wrong. But an absence of accidents doesn’t prove everything necessary is being done to protect workers. Teams might have found temporary workarounds or have just been lucky.

Better but still flawed is mistaking ‘regular’ for ‘annual’. But can you say nothing changes in your workplace in a full calendar year? Risk assessments must be updated as often as necessary based on the level of risk and the likelihood of the hazards changing. Likewise, any changes to the work environment, established systems or risk controls should also trigger an update.

Red flags are risk assessments that don’t reflect current work practices or hazards and actions that were never actioned.

Q8 – What Have You Done to Empower Your Teams?

Ensuring your frontline workers, maintenance staff and line managers understand PUWER is critical to managing it correctly. Every stakeholder contributes to compliance somehow, so relevant knowledge must be available across your organisation.

So ask yourself and your teams, where are the knowledge gaps? And how are you going to address them?

Human Focus offers PUWER training that is relevant to every role. Frontline workers benefit from Awareness training, which outlines PUWER legislation and its application in routine work. Managers with PUWER responsibilities such as assessment or inspection have Assessor training. This eight-module course explores compliance and PUWER duties. It also comes with a free digital checklist customisable to your work equipment, letting you make detailed inspection and assessment reports faster.

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Jonathan Goby
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