Almost all job roles and work tasks require the use of some form of equipment. Work equipment can range from a simple step ladder to production line machinery. The inclusion of equipment in the workplace creates additional risk to the people who use it. This is not to say that the use of equipment should be avoided but that certain safety measures may need to be put in place to prevent harm.
Every employer has legal duties regarding the wide variety of tools and equipment that their employees use. As a start, the equipment provided must be safe and it must be inspected. In addition, they must ensure that any staff that operates equipment has been provided with sufficient instruction, information, and training to do so safely.
Work equipment can be defined as any machinery, apparatus, tool, appliance, or installation used for work purposes. Equipment that employees provide for their own use at work such as a smart device, is also classed as work equipment.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines the use of work equipment as ‘any activity involving work equipment and includes starting, stopping, programming, setting, transporting, repairing, modifying, maintaining, servicing and cleaning’.
Workplace equipment examples include:
It is fair to say that the list of equipment is extensive.
There are numerous hazards that arise from the use of work equipment and machinery, dependent on its nature. Examples include excessive noise from equipment leading to noise-induced hearing loss, excessive vibration from hand-held tools causing loss of sensation in hands and arms. Defective work equipment could also result in injuries such as electric shocks, burns, cuts and lacerations, and in very serious cases, fatality.
Musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive strain injuries are common for those who regularly operate the same equipment for long periods of time. For instance, work on computers, laptops, or any other display screen equipment can lead to aches, pains, or worse.
Workplace injuries harm both the employee and the employer. Those injured could be affected for the rest of their lives and may not be able to continue doing a job they love. Employers can be affected financially if claims are raised against them, legally if cases go to court and they may even suffer a loss of business due to reputational damage.
There were 205 new cases of Harm Arm Vibration Syndrome in 2019/20 and 135 new cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, according to statistics from the HSE. Both of which are caused and exacerbated by the use of work equipment such as electric powered hand tools and computer use. Both are also preventable with the right control measures and instruction to employees.
Similarly, reportable incidents from the manufacturing industry for the period of 2015/16-2019/20 show that 14% of accidents were caused by contact with machinery.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets the framework for all health and safety laws in the UK. Under this legislation, employers have a duty to provide safe equipment to their employees to use and sufficient training to operate it in a healthy and safe way.
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 adds further detail to the 1974 law. The main requirement under this law is that employers must carry out risk assessments of any potential hazards in the workplace, such as the hazards of equipment use. They must also put in place controls to ensure this risk is at an acceptable level,
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 govern any work equipment that could pose a risk to anyone’s health and safety. PUWER places a legal duty on anyone who operates, owns or controls equipment. It requires a system of inspection to be carried out where necessary.
Lifting and Lifting Operations Regulations (LOLER) 1998 place legal duties on anyone or any company that owns, operates, or has control over lifting equipment. This includes all organisations whose employees use lifting equipment, whether they own them or not.
The Health & Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 govern the use of display screen equipment, which are any devices that have a graphic display or alphanumeric screens, laptops, and other similar devices.
Key duties of employers include:
- Providing equipment that is safe to use
- Providing instruction, training information, and supervision
- Ensuring the suitability of work equipment
- Maintaining and inspecting work equipment, as necessary
- Assessing the risks associated with equipment
Employers should add a work equipment policy to their catalogue of safety documents. This policy should highlight what is in place to reduce the likelihood of harm to employees to as low as is reasonably possible. It will also inform employees of how equipment is selected, maintained, and taken out of use if found to be defective.
A work equipment risk assessment must be carried out by employers to understand who in the workplace may be harmed while using or being in close proximity with equipment, the environment that the equipment is used in, and any residual risks. Risk assessments must be proportionate to the risk to employees and involving those who are exposed to the risk is always beneficial.
Employees’ responsibilities in the provision and use of work equipment include their duty to use the equipment as directed by their employer and report any defects they find. They act as the eyes and ears in the workplace in raising concerns and issues when it comes to defective equipment and inappropriate use.
Inappropriate use can lead to accidents and property damage. Therefore, employers should consider what disciplinary action will be taken if such cases come up.
It is very important that employees follow any processes that exist for taking defective items out of use. Where pieces of equipment cannot be repaired, they should be discarded in the correct way.
Consideration should be given to the procurement of work equipment. Items should be purchased from reputable suppliers, be CE-marked and align with all the necessary conformity standards.
Prior to introducing equipment to the workforce, it is a good idea to thoroughly understand how to use, maintain, inspect, and store it, and understand the effects it could have on employee health and wellbeing.
Implementing robust maintenance and inspection regimes will prolong the life of the equipment and will help to spot defects as soon as they occur. A visual inspection carried out by an employee before each use is a quick and easy way to work out if the piece of equipment is safe to use.
Keeping a record of inspections and routine maintenance will help to identify when equipment is due for review. Being able to evidence that equipment is maintained is a key part of a workplace audit, so having records that are easily obtainable is a mark of an effectively run health and safety management system.
It is very important that there is a process for taking defective items out of use and that it is communicated to the workforce. Where pieces of equipment cannot be repaired, they should be discarded in the correct way.
Companies striving to become more sustainable in the way they operate can look into equipment recycling schemes, where defective or old pieces of equipment can either be restored or broken down for their spare parts.
All of these steps will encourage the safe use of the equipment and reduce the likelihood of injury to workers and damage to property.
Employees who are trained on how to adequately use, inspect and maintain equipment are less likely to come to harm. The Health & Safety at Work Act and other relevant legislation places a duty on employers to ensure that workers are trained on equipment use.
Training is particularly important for new joiners to the company or for those who move to a role that uses specific equipment. Young people, who are new to the world of work are at a higher risk due to their lack of experience. Training will also be needed when equipment models are upgraded, to make sure users know how to work with any new functions.
Often referred to as PUWER, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations explain what needs to be done by employers to make sure that any work equipment they provide to their workforce is safe. It also highlights what employees need to do to keep themselves safe while using work equipment.
Work equipment can be anything from hand tools such as hammers and screw drivers to electric-powered tools like drills and even computers and smart devices.
No stairs are not classed as workplace equipment. Rather they would come under the workplace environment.
The range of work equipment types means that the number of hazards can be extensive. Entrapment, drawing in, collision with, burns, cuts and electric shocks are all hazards associated with work equipment.
Old work equipment that is no longer in a decent condition should be taken out of service. In an effort to be more sustainable many companies are recycling equipment.