What is a Risk Based Inspection? | RBI in PUWER Inspections

What is a Risk Based Inspection and how does it apply to PUWER Inspections?


As an employer, you have a legal responsibility (Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999) to ensure the occupational health and safety of your staff, as well as anyone else on the premises, including visitors, contractors and  members of the public. As straightforward as this sounds at first, the more you know about the subject, the clearer it becomes that the risk management requirements for individual industries are vastly different and compliance can be achieved using a whole range of activities and methodologies. One of the most effective approaches to risk management is to conduct a risk based inspection (RBI). Below, we’ll look at what a risk based inspection is, how it applies to your PUWER inspection needs and we’ll give some advice on how to do it right. 


What is a risk based inspection (RBI)? 

The first important thing to understand is that a risk based inspection is not a single inspection; it refers to an approach of planning risk assessments based on risk analysis. The concept behind RBI is that if you know which piece of equipment is likely to fail first and what impact that would have, you can best plan and prioritise your risk management activities to prevent machine failures. 

The risk analysis that an RBI is based on takes into account two main elements:

  • Probability of Failure (POF): Identifying the likelihood of equipment failure based on the 3 Ds – damage, deterioration, or degradation
  • Consequence of Failure (COF): This part of the process looks at how the potential failure could affect the people, equipment and work environment

A risk based inspection is designed based on quantitative data consisting of statistics and probability calculations, as well as qualitative data – the predictions an experienced safety inspector can make based on their previous experience and existing knowledge. Usually, it’s recommended that you use a combination of both types of data to achieve more accurate results. An RBI risk assessment should be able to identify the following:

  • What damage could occur
  • Where it could occur
  • How quickly will the deterioration spread
  • What health and safety risks could arise from it 

A successful RBI program is used to predict future damage to plan and implement an effective inspection programme, as well as other risk mitigating measures, such as repair or replacement of equipment. The key to achieving compliance and protecting your staff is to distribute your resources proportionally to the risks that have been identified. 


Who can use a risk based inspection (RBI)?

A risk based inspection can be used in any sector or industry, however, it is usually aimed at high-risk applications of equipment where failure is likely inevitable. Most commonly, RBI is implemented in situations where pressure systems, storage tanks and containers of hazardous materials are used and the risk of failure, as well as its consequences are severe.  

However, the same principles can easily be applied to achieve your risk management and compliance goals in a more standard setting where common industrial machines are used. Establishing an inspection plan with suitable intervals proportionate to the risk probability and severity could be beneficial in the context of other safety inspections where the legal  guidance does not clearly define the interval between inspections. 


Risk Based Inspection and PUWER  

A good example of  a situation where the Risk Based Inspection approach can be applied to a safety inspection in a more common setting is PUWER inspections. The relevant PUWER legislation (The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998) allows for a 6-12 month interval between inspections. A RIB could help identify the need to do a PUWER inspection sooner rather than later, as half a year is a very long period of time when it comes to potentially life-threatening machine failures. 

The wealth of existing guidance available for those who wish to do a Risk Based Inspection can be utilised as an alternative source of references when you are looking to implement a schedule for your mandatory PUWER inspections, as part of your compliance activities. Leading UK machine safety experts Spiers Safety Engineering, for example, have developed a system for PUWER inspection planning and prioritisation (PIPP) which implements the principles and objectives of RBI to determine the appropriate intervals between PUWER inspections of industrial machines. 


The Role of Risk Based Assessment Software

Planning and prioritising an RBI can be a challenge. In a real-life setting, there are a large number of assets, people and places, as well as risk assessment history that you have to take into account in order to execute your compliance activities correctly. In addition to that, the entire process has to be efficiently communicated to all relevant people involved. Failure to do that could result in human error, breakdown in communication and, eventually, non-compliance and potentially harmful incidents. This is where risk based assessment software comes to the rescue. 

If we continue working with PUWER inspections as an example, the leading software solution on the market in the UK is RiskMach. This particular tool solves all of the problems discussed above. It offers bespoke PUWER risk assessment templates that can be accessed and contributed to by all relevant people via a secure digital platform, accessible from any device, any place and at any time. From a comprehensive risk evaluation matrix for assessment and prioritisation to automatic notifications when a PUWER inspection is due, it has all the features you need to construct a PUWER schedule proportionate to the risks as dictated by the RBI methodology. 

Using a risk-based assessment software to gain full control and visibility of your inspections planning and prioritisation puts you in control of your risk management activities and reduces the time you spend on admin tasks. A digital solution allows for updates to risks and defects to be flagged in real time too. Therefore, exploring the option of going down the software route when adopting a risk based inspection approach is definitely worth it. 


Important advice on RBI

If you are going to implement a risk based inspection as part of your risk management and compliance strategy, there are a few important highlights that you should keep in mind:


1. Risk management should be risk-appropriate, not low-cost

RBI shouldn’t be viewed as a tool to cut costs by extending the lifespan of equipment or by reducing costs spent on instructing a professional to do an inspection. The main goal is achieving excellent occupational health and safety. Risk based inspections should be thorough and all identified risks should always be reduced to a minimum following the inspection. Otherwise, safety standards could be affected and this could lead to dangerous plant failures that have fatal consequences. 


2. RBI alone is not always sufficient

If you work in a high-risk industry where failure could have fatal consequences or cause serious damage, RBI alone is not an adequate risk management strategy. Other technical measures, such as shielding or tethering of hydraulic hoses where they contain hydraulic oil under pressure and people may be exposed to it, would be required too. 


3. The RBI approach can be applied to PUWER

Even though technical measures are addressed in the design of ihg-risk equipment, an RBI would class these types of equipment as high-risk and high-probability of harm, therefore it would indicate the need for a PUWER inspection to find whether the technical measures in place are still safe and effective. 


4. Follow the RBI best practices

To ensure your risk based inspection is effective, you have to make sure it is executed correctly. The RBI Best Practices provide guidance on the level of knowledge, expertise and quantitative data required for the process to be adequate and serve its purpose well. It’s key reading for inspectors but it could also be helpful for employers (competent people) who want to understand the process better. 


By implementing the principles of risk based inspection (RBI), you can gain unique strategic knowledge about the operational risks in your workplace and optimise your risk management strategy to achieve regulatory compliance and the best health and safety standards.