Last reviewed 27 August 2019

The law and requirements relating to risk assessment are well known, and one of the most important applications is that relating to machinery safety.

All workplaces have machinery, and in particular moving machinery can cause injuries in many ways.

The risk assessment process for machinery will need to consider a wide range of hazards and also relate to a range of standards and legal requirements. One of the key aspects of machinery is to consider the danger of moving parts and to guard these dangerous parts.

In completing a risk assessment, the user of the machinery will depend to a large extent on the manufacturer and/or supplier of the machinery to meet their legal obligations.

So what should be the methodology for risk assessment of machinery? What standards and legal requirements are relevant? What should be the approach for guarding machinery?

Duties of manufacturers and suppliers

Machinery has a wide definition (as detailed in the Machinery Directive) but in basic terms is a piece of equipment which has moving parts and some kind of drive unit. Legislation places legal duties on both the manufacturer and supplier of machinery.

The Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008 and the Supply of Machinery (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 implement Directives 2006/42/EC and 2009/127/EC on machinery. The regulations require all machinery to:

  • be designed and constructed to be safe, meeting the essential health and safety requirements listed in the regulations (these are supported by many harmonised standards)

  • be CE marked

  • be supplied with instructions in English

  • have a Declaration of Conformity (or, in the case of partly completed machinery, a Declaration of Incorporation).

To design and manufacture machinery safely, the manufacturer must identify the health and safety hazards, assess the risks as a result of these hazards and then design them out, provide safeguards against the risks and provide relevant information and warning signs.

In addition to the above, s.6 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 places a duty on manufacturers, suppliers and designers of equipment for use at work. It places a general health and safety obligation on anyone in the supply chain, so far as is reasonably practicable, for when articles for use at work are being used, set, cleaned or maintained. This obligation includes providing information and instructions on safe use, including any subsequent revisions to that information.

To meet these requirements, manufacturers are encouraged to follow best practice guidance such as BS EN ISO 12100:2010 Safety of Machinery. General Principles for Design. Risk Assessment and Risk Reduction.

This document sets out how the manufacturer should be assessing the risks from their initial machinery design concept.

Safeguards for machinery

In terms of the safeguards, both the above legislation and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) are applicable. Along with the Essential Health and Safety Requirements contained in the supply legislation noted above, Regulation 11(2) of PUWER specifies the measures to be taken to prevent access to the dangerous parts of the machinery and achieve compliance with PUWER.

The measures are ranked in the order they should be implemented, where practicable, to achieve an adequate level of protection. The levels of protection are:

  • fixed enclosing guards that have no moving parts but may have an opening as long as certain criteria are met in terms of safe reach distances

  • other guards such as interlocked guards which allow limited access (eg to feed materials) and may be power-operated, self-closing, etc

  • other protective devices such as pressure mats, light curtains or trip devices that stop the movement of dangerous parts before contact is made

  • protection appliances, such as jigs, holders and push-sticks that keep the operators body clear of the danger zone and are commonly used when materials have to be fed into a machine

  • the provision of information, instruction, training and supervision.

Regulation 11(2) of PUWER is qualified by the term “practicable”, which has been defined in court as meaning “physically possible” and “technically feasible”, irrespective of cost, and so sets a higher standard than those legal requirements qualified by “so far as is reasonably practicable”, but lower than absolute duties.

It should be noted that under the EU Directives the manufacturer cannot supply machinery with safeguards missing and expect the user to provide them.

Users’ duties

Nearly all equipment (including machinery) used at work is subject to the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, which place duties on employers, the self-employed, and those who control work equipment. In summary, the regulations require users of machinery to:

  • select and provide suitable work equipment

  • ensure it is used correctly

  • keep it safe and well-maintained.

The regulations do not make specific requirements in relation to the undertaking of a risk assessment but guidance to the regulations does state that “risks to health and safety should be assessed taking into account the type of work equipment, substances and electrical or mechanical hazards to which people might be exposed”.

As such, Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) will apply which requires employers to perform risk assessments relating to their work activities.

Guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) makes it clear that users should be following various steps to ensure safety of the machinery prior to its purchase, these being:

  • identifying where and how the machinery will be used

  • what the machinery will be used for

  • who will be using the equipment (eg skilled employees or trainees)

  • what the risks from using the equipment are

  • how well the health and safety risks are being controlled by the various manufacturers who may be supplying the equipment.

These steps, along with the information and instructions provided by manufacturers/suppliers will form the basis of the users’ risk assessment.

It is worth noting that the HSE state that manufacturers, by affixing the CE mark, are “claiming that the machinery complies with the law” but that this “in itself does not guarantee safety”.

As such they further state that users must “check the machine is safe for use on your site before it is used”.

The risk assessment process

The principles of risk assessment for the use of machinery are no different from any other work activity being assessed. The Health and Safety Executive’s Five Steps to Risk Assessment can be used as a simple, but effective, methodology for machinery risk assessment.

  1. Identify the hazards.

  2. Decide who might be harmed and how.

  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions.

  4. Record your findings and implement them.

  5. Review your assessment and update if necessary.

At step 1, it is important to carefully examine the broad range of hazards that might be present. Key to this will be the information and instructions provided by the manufacturer/supplier, which as noted above should be detailing residual risks and how these are being safeguarded against.

The HSE recommends that users take the information available and then “take a close look” at the machinery. In doing so, the user should utilise the competency of any in-house personnel to help identify any obvious issues. This will include:

  • identifying any parts that look dangerous

  • ensuring guards where required are in place and prevent access to dangerous parts

  • determining if the machine can be operated with the guards removed

  • determining if employees can understand the controls easily

  • identifying physical hazards (electrical, mechanical, falls from height, confinded spaces, manual handling, etc)

  • identifying health hazards (noise, vibration, chemical exposure, temperature, ergonomic issues, etc.)

During the risk assessment, it is absolutely critical to not only consider the routine use of the machinery, but also those non-standard situations, for example, planned maintenance and reactive maintenance (breakdowns and dealing with blockages, etc). It is often in such circumstances that accidents occur.

When considering who could be at harm, this will include operators (including young persons or agency staff who may operate the machinery) as well as those within the local vicinity.

Maintenance operatives should also be considered and whether these are in-house or contractor personnel. This last point is essential as it is often the case that essential safety information is not provided to contractors.

Factors such as language skills should also be considered when completing the risk assessment.

When considering control measures to deal with the risks presented by the machinery, it should be noted that Schedule 1 of MHSWR requires a hierarchy of control measures to be applied. The safeguards provided by the manufacturer should be reflecting this hierarchy. Where the user has concerns that the machinery is unsafe, they should address these with the manufacturer/supplier.

In practice, effort must be applied to the elimination of risks before considering other approaches. It also means that physical means of protection must be given preference over procedural measures, such as safe systems of work (including permits to work). Of course, in practice, the control measures may be a combination of measures.


Dealing with machinery safety takes time and effort, and considerations of a range of hazards, legal requirements and standards. Not dealing with them will cost much more, often resulting in very serious injuries and even death.

Failure to sufficiently address risks can be costly. In 2017, bread giant Warburtons received a £1.9 million fine after pleading guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, after an agency worker was injured when his arm became trapped in a machine for 20 minutes. It was found that guarding of machines was inconsistent with remedial steps being simple and not unduly expensive not being taken.

In summary users should:

  • check the machinery is CE marked and that the supplier has explained what the machine is to be used for

  • ensure a user manual has been provided (in English) that details safe use and maintenance

  • ensure information on all residual risks has been provided and that necessary warning signs are in place

  • undertake the risk assessment using the information provided and the in-hosue skills available

  • where necessary request a trial run is undertaken of the machinery before being commissioned

  • raise any concerns with the supplier before putting the machine into operation

  • ensure all operatives are competent and are provided with the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision as highlighted by the risk assessment

  • ensure all maintenance operations (planned and reactive) are subject to risk control measures such as a permit-to-work system.