Last reviewed 31 May 2020

What constitutes work equipment? What are the requirements under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998? Fiona Burns, Croner consultant, reminds employers about their key responsibilities.

The key piece of legislation covering the safety of work equipment is the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER), which requires employers to ensure work equipment is safe for its intended use.

PUWER builds on the general duty of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees, and on the specific duty of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) to assess and control risks.

What is work equipment?

Work equipment is any machinery, appliance, apparatus, tool or installation for use at work — but not necessarily exclusively at work, as it covers any of the employee's own tools used for work. The exact type and amount of equipment in any business will vary according to the kind of work carried out.

Common examples include:

  • hand tools, including hammers, chisels, screwdrivers, spanners, knives, meat cleavers, saws and scissors

  • computers and display screen equipment

  • portable electrical equipment — equipment which is usually moved around, such as portable power tools, floor polishing machines, vacuums, kitchen appliances and heaters

  • fixed machines, including drilling machines, power presses, circular saws and photocopiers

  • lifting equipment and lifts including forklift trucks, vehicle hoists and lifting slings

  • ladders and other working at height equipment, such as mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs), folding access platforms and fall protection equipment.

The employer's legal duties

The general duty laid out in HSWA requires employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees, including their safety when using work equipment.

The MHSWR introduce further requirements for assessing and controlling risks, including risks relating to work equipment, and for providing employees with adequate health and safety information and training.

PUWER places duties on an employer who owns, operates or has control over work equipment to control any risks by:

  • ensuring that equipment is suitable for use, and for the purpose and conditions in which it is to be used

  • properly installing any fixed equipment or machinery, including ensuring that any safeguards are in place, eg appropriate warning signs, marks, safety bars and guards

  • producing a safe system of work for using and maintaining machinery

  • ensuring that, where necessary, equipment is regularly inspected by a suitably competent person so it continues to be safe for use

  • using equipment only for its intended purposes

  • maintaining equipment in good condition

  • ensuring that people using, supervising or managing equipment are provided with appropriate safety information and training

  • taking account of working conditions and health and safety risks when selecting work equipment (eg flooring conditions, stairs and space)

  • keeping appropriate records.

The word “use” broadly refers to all work activities involving the piece of equipment:

  • using the equipment for a particular task

  • starting the equipment

  • repairs

  • upgrades

  • maintenance and servicing

  • cleaning the equipment

  • stopping the equipment

  • moving the equipment, eg from one part of the building or site to another part.

To be “at work”, staff must use equipment during the course of their employment or, if self-employed, while doing that self-employed work. When work equipment is used outside of work time in a private capacity, the employer is not responsible for its safety.

According to regulations, hiring companies also bear a duty to ensure the safety of work equipment they provide. However, the regulations do not apply to equipment used by the public.

Employees' duties

Under the legislation, employees also have various duties. They should:

  • take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of other people who may be affected by their work

  • co-operate with their employers on health and safety matters

  • follow health and safety instructions and report any hazards or faults

  • attend any required training or instruction

  • always operate machinery or equipment properly in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions

  • perform a user safety check before use

  • wear personal protective equipment provided.

Work equipment hazards and risks

There are many hazards involved in the use of workplace equipment.

  • Puncture wounds and cuts caused by sharp equipment such as scissors, needles, paper guillotines, knives, chisels, saws, planes and screwdrivers are the most common risks.

  • Cutting equipment or equipment with moving parts may cause serious injuries if there are insufficient safeguards in place.

  • Equipment that uses heat, such as ovens and grills in catering businesses, could cause injuries ranging from minor scalding to disfigurement and serious burns.

  • Equipment that transmits vibrations into the hand or arm could cause long-term illness or disability.

  • Parts of the body can be drawn into or trapped between the rollers, belts and pulley drives of machinery.

  • People can be crushed by moving parts.

  • Parts of a machine can be hot or cold enough to cause burns or scalds, as can leaks of steam, etc.

  • Electrical faults in equipment can lead to electrocution.

  • People can be hit and injured by moving parts of machinery or ejected material.

Employers are required to consider how their employees use work equipment to carry out their tasks. After consideration, employers must take steps to reduce or eliminate the risks to their workers.

Risk assessment

A thorough risk assessment must be completed before carrying out any work tasks using work equipment that may expose a person to harm. All work equipment including mobile and lifting equipment must be examined for risks to health and safety, including electrical and mechanical hazards and ergonomic factors. Specific equipment will carry specific risks, eg pressure systems and fixed machinery.

Any control measures found necessary from the risk assessment must be implemented and kept under review. The employer (or those in control of the equipment, eg hirers) must ensure the safety and suitability of the work equipment for the work process.

A risk assessment might show a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury, but the employer should consider the degree of risk and put appropriate safeguards in place.