Work equipment Expertise
Work equipment is, by definition, the equipment we use at work, or the ‘tools of our trade’. When an expert becomes involved with a case involving work equipment, it may be that the equipment in a particular workplace has caused injury to an employee and an opinion is being sought. Perhaps the employee is seeking civil redress, or the authorities (Health and Safety Executive or local authority) are taking enforcement action against one or more parties involved in a workplace incident.
The definition of work equipment is very wide and is described in the governing regulations, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (commonly referred to as PUWER). Some examples of work equipment would include:
- office equipment – e.g. copiers, printers and paper cutters
- manufacturing equipment – e.g. processing machinery
- gardening equipment – e.g. mowers, hand-tools and chainsaws
- catering equipment – e.g. deep fat fryers, mixers and knives
- other equipment – e.g. fork-lift trucks, band saws, circular saws, ladders and stepladders, and power tools.
- power presses and woodworking machinery.
The list is almost endless and the types of equipment range from the very basic to extremely complex. Needless to say, when in fault condition, or (more likely) when being used incorrectly, work equipment can prove to be very unforgiving when competing with a human!
Typical injuries that occur when working with work equipment include:
Entrapment – e.g. trapped or crushed fingers
Contact – e.g. injury due to contact with a moving part, typically a blade or other component
Entanglement – e.g. a sleeve, long hair or tie being caught by a moving part of a machine
Impact – e.g. being hit by a moving part of equipment as a consequence of being in the ‘danger area’.
There are also non-mechanical hazards such as electrical shock, harm from hydraulic fluids, noise harm, etc.
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 are comprehensive in nature and comprise more than 35 regulations in all. A (very) brief overview of just a few aspects of the regulations are as follows:
- Work equipment has to be suitable for its purpose. Thought must be given during the procurement process as to exactly what the equipment is going to be used for. Ensuring that the equipment is suitable would include carrying out a risk assessment.
- It must be maintained ‘in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair’. These three requirements are different and each must be conformed to. For example:
- In an efficient state means that the equipment must have no leaks or corrosion on its surfaces.
- In efficient working order means that all the safety devices must be working correctly, such as guards, interlocks and controls.
- In good repair means that the equipment is actually maintained! For example, any repairs required are carried out when they are needed and to the specified standard.
- Users of work equipment must be provided with information, instruction and training. Information can be in the form of instructional manuals, technical manuals or locally developed training material. Persons who operate work equipment must be ‘competent’ to do so, i.e. to be regarded as a competent operative they must have the necessary knowledge about the machine and how to operate it, and should have undergone a period of training along with a designated period of post-training experience.
- Work equipment has to conform to community requirements (CE marking). This marking is widely used and signifies that equipments are built to a suitable standard. Those responsible for purchasing new work equipment should ensure that the equipment has a CE mark on it.
- Persons must be protected from harm by dangerous parts of machinery. Dangerous parts of machinery could include moving parts such as drive shafts, blades, belts, etc. A typical way of doing this is by the provision of ‘guards, protection devices or protection appliances’, the first option of which MUST be the fixed guard. If a fixed guard cannot be used, then a protection device, such as an interlock switch on a machine access door, may be appropriate. Lastly, if all of the above is not suitable, a protective appliance such as a ‘push-stick’ on a woodworking circular saw may be appropriate. A push stick is simply a sacrificial piece of wood that keeps the hands away from the saw blade, on the basis that we can get a new push stick if it contacts the blade but cannot easily get a new set of fingers.
- Isolation must be provided – e.g. when cleaning or maintenance is required. For the more basic work equipment, such as a coffee grinder in a cafe, it would be acceptable for the machine to be simply unplugged to provide the required isolation. In some workplaces, however, extensive precautions may be required, such as physically locking-off the equipment, using a permit to work system and detailed procedures.
It is also worth remembering that the regulations are not only about use, but about provision of work equipment. In other words, some thought should be given to work equipment as the purchasing process starts. It is also worth noting that final disposal of old equipment is an important consideration, although not specified in the regulations.
From a health and safety management perspective, and particularly from an expert perspective, the use of work equipment in a work environment must be subject to a ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessment being carried out and communicated to all those involved in the work operation. See paragraph on ‘suitability’ above.
The Expert Witness role and work equipment
Because the subject of work equipment is very wide, finding the right expert can be a problem. Many experts working in this field will be Chartered or Incorporated Engineers (CEng or IEng, registered with the Engineering Council). Others may have membership of one or more of the many engineering-related institutions. Yet others may be engineers and be practising as health and safety consultants. In some cases, experts may have no formal qualifications or registrations, but would be eminently capable of providing an expert witness service given their many years of experience.