Ensuring the highest occupational health standards is a major responsibility for any employer. With the help of the PUWER regulations, you can have peace of mind knowing that you have tackled the prevention of machinery-related workplace accidents. The guide below will look into detail at what PUWER is and what equipment it covers, as well as who is responsible for PUWER inspections and the benefits of carrying out PUWER risk assessments. Here’s everything you need to know about PUWER.
What is PUWER?
The abbreviation PUWER stands for the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
PUWER outlines a set of workplace safety regulations that relate to the safe use of machinery and work equipment. PUWER compliance ensures that work equipment is:
- Suitable for use as intended
- Maintained regularly
- Operated by adequately trained users only
- Inspected by a competent person
This key piece of legislation was developed in 1998 based on the current requirements listed in the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1992, and with the making of some important additions to the regulations, it fully replaced the 1992 version. Northern Ireland applied the new PUWER regulations a year later, in 1999.
The implementation of PUWER regulations aims to reduce the likelihood of workplace accidents for anyone who might have access to machinery as part of their job. It ensures the safety of all persons involved with work equipment, including employees, employers, suppliers and all others who come in contact with the equipment in question.
What do PUWER regulations apply to?
PUWER regulations have a broad range of applications in a wide variety of industries. From first use to regular use, all activities involving workplace machinery and equipment should be inspected under a PUWER risk assessment to keep everyone working safely, no matter the work environment. There are four main factors you should think about when planning a PUWER inspection:
PUWER regulations apply to all places of work, from office and cafes to construction sites, factories and warehouses.
PUWER applies to all work equipment provided, regardless of its origins (i.e. hired, owned by the business, owned by an employee).
PUWER regulations apply to all equipment users, regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time, contract or temporary workers.
PUWER covers all activities related to equipment used, including installing, stopping, starting, operating, modifying, cleaning and maintaining.
What equipment should be inspected under PUWER?
The list of equipment PUWER applies to is extremely broad. It includes any equipment, be it new or old, hired or owned, that is used for work purposes and could potentially cause harm to a person’s health and safety. Anything from small power tools to large stationary equipment is covered by PUWER, so it is safe to assume that all machinery and equipment should be inspected.
To give you an idea of what machinery and equipment are covered, here’s a list of examples:
- Tools: hammers, saws, power tools, clamps, knives, hoses, etc.
- Machinery: forklifts, vehicles, pallet trucks, sewing machines, floor polishers, etc.
- Specialised equipment: lab equipment, firefighting equipment, scaffolding, ladders, cooking equipment, etc.
- Appliances: computers, washing machines, commercial refrigerators, dishwashers, etc.
- Installations and systems: heating, plumbing, electrical wiring, lifts, etc.
In addition to a PUWER inspection, any new equipment you plan to install on your work premises must also be compliant with the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. For that to happen, any new equipment must:
- Be labelled correctly with the manufacturer’s details
- Have a Declaration of Conformity
- Have instructions in English
- Have no obvious defects
Regular PUWER risk assessments help you keep all machinery and equipment suitable for use and free from defects throughout their lifetime.
Who is responsible for PUWER compliance?
From keeping machines safe for use by compiling with PUWER regulations to ensuring health and safety awareness for your employees, providing a safe working environment is a responsibility that lies with the employer. You have the same compliance responsibility if you are self-employed.
Although employees aren’t directly responsible for ensuring PUWER compliance, they are required to follow any safety instructions outlined by their employer, report any possible health risks and follow any safe usage protocols detailed during special equipment training.
If you are an employee but you provide your employer with work premises equipped with machinery, you have the responsibility to ensure the equipment is safe to use, even if you are not using it yourself.
As PUWER regulations apply to hired equipment as well, in the cases when you do use hired equipment, you must agree with the supplier who will be responsible for carrying out the necessary PUWER risk assessments. This must all be documented in writing, in case the legal responsibility needs to be proven at any point in the future.
What is a PUWER inspection?
To ensure PUWER compliance, you must carry out regular inspections and risk assessments for all machinery or equipment. The risk assessment should cover everything from identifying potential risks to proposing and executing actions to manage those risks.
The process includes the following steps:
- Identify health hazards and any factors that contribute to their occurrence
- Assess the level of risk and ascertain the probability of harm being caused
- Propose a plan of action to eliminate any risks that have been identified
- If eliminating the risk is impossible, then actions to reduce the risk should be outlined
- Execute all actions to eliminate/reduce risk and prevent harm
What a PUWER inspection consists of depends on the type of equipment and its uses. The assessment can require a range of actions, ranging from a visual examination to dismantling and inspecting each part of the machine individually.
What should a PUWER inspection report include?
You must keep detailed records of all PUWER inspections, the risks identified and the actions taken to prevent them for future reference. Using a checklist or a template could save you a lot of time, especially when frequent inspections of multiple pieces of equipment are required.
Here are a few points that should be detailed in the report:
- Equipment model and type
- Identification marks or numbers, including QR codes
- The location where the equipment is usually used
- The date when the inspection took place
- Who carried out the inspection: name and job title
- Any damage or faults identified
- Proposed and/or executed actions to fix these issues
- Who have the issues been reported to: name and job title
- The date by which any necessary actions/repairs must be executed
Types of PUWER inspection
From pre-use checks to regular maintenance, PUWER inspections are necessary at different stages of the equipment’s lifespan. There are four main types of inspections:
- After installation – Before any new piece of equipment is put to use for the first time, a competent person must ensure that it has been installed correctly and that it is safe for use.
- Before each use – Anyone who operates a machine or equipment must perform quick pre-use checks before each use, to spot any obvious issues with the equipment. An example of this would be checking the conditions of the tyres of a truck before setting out on a journey.
- When harsh working conditions can damage the equipment – Regular PUWER safety checks may be required on a monthly or even weekly basis if the conditions the equipment is exposed to could deteriorate or damage it over time. For example, checking the integrity of work equipment at a construction site that has been exposed to severe weather.
- In exceptional circumstances – those include major modifications, repairs and refurbishments.
How often should PUWER assessments be carried out?
There is no standard time period that needs to pass before your next PUWER assessment should be carried out. It’s up to the employer to decide how often inspections should be carried out. Each piece of machinery is likely to require different intervals between regular checks to ensure safety. To help you determine the frequency of PUWER assessments, you should take into account several factors, including:
- How frequently is each piece of work equipment used? The more regular the use is, the more frequent the risk assessments should be.
- How is the equipment used? The intensity of use can increase the level of risk associated with it, consequently augmenting the need for frequent inspections.
- What environment is the equipment used in? A high-risk environment, such as a construction site, requires more regular inspections than a low-risk environment, such as a warehouse.
- How damaging could an accident be? There are different levels of health and safety risk associated with the possible malfunction or failure of a certain piece of equipment. Where serious health hazards could occur, risk assessments must be carried out more often.
All of the factors above, combined with the information indicated in the user’s manual of complex machinery, should help you determine the adequate frequency of inspections needed to ensure your entire operation stays PUWER compliant.
According to the PUWER ACOP (Approved Code of Practice), in the occurrence of “exceptional circumstances”, an inspection may be required earlier than what the normal maintenance schedule would require. Circumstances that can alter the health and safety risk assessment of equipment include:
- Any substantial changes, refurbishments, modifications or repairs
- Equipment damage that is known or suspected to have been sustained
- A significant change in the way equipment is being used, e.g. equipment that has previously been used occasionally is now needed on a daily basis
Who can carry out a PUWER inspection?
Only someone who is identified as a “competent person” has the right to perform PUWER inspections. To classify as a competent person, the user must possess “sufficient knowledge and experience” regarding what should be included in the inspection, as well as how and when assessments should be carried out.
Depending on the type of equipment you use, it could be possible to organise PUWER training for your employees, so that PUWER inspections could be carried out in-house. In cases when the equipment used is too complex, the involvement of a third-party PUWER inspector could be required.
Why is PUWER important in the workplace?
Everyone is entitled to a safe work environment. Reducing the work-related risk to a minimum is a legal and moral duty of any employer. PUWER provides essential guidance to help you:
- Maintain all work equipment in a good working condition
- Educate all employees on how to correctly operate any equipment they need to use as part of their job
- Provide an adequate level of health and safety training to all machinery and equipment users
- Keep detailed records of any issues, defects and potential hazards associated with work equipment
- Do everything in your power to minimise, control and, when possible, eliminate all work-related health risks for machinery operators
How can RiskMach help?
RiskMach offers an all-in-one digital solution to all your workplace health and safety needs, including PUWER compliance. Using the RiskMach apps allows you to not only carry out the necessary risk assessments but also to log detailed reports accessible from anywhere via cloud storage, manage the risks you have identified, take actions to neuter hazards and effectively communicate health and safety information to everyone in your organisation.
To complete our Ultimate PUWER Guide, here are the answers to some of your most frequently asked questions about PUWER:
What is the purpose of PUWER?
PUWER ensures a safe working environment for all people who use equipment and machinery in the workplace.
Is PUWER a legal requirement?
Technically, the PUWER Approved Code of Practice and Guidance (PUWER ACOP) is considered guidance and not law. However, following it is usually sufficient to keep you compliant with the legal requirements under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
LOLER and PUWER: What is the difference?
As already established, PUWER covers a set of regulations that apply to all equipment, whereas LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations) specifically deals with the safety of lifting equipment. In most cases when lifting equipment is involved, both of these are required to ensure the safety of the users.
How often should PUWER inspections be carried out?
The frequency of PUWER inspections depends on the type of equipment, the way it’s used, who uses it, how often and in what environment.
Who is responsible for PUWER?
The employer is responsible for ensuring PUWER compliance, so it is up to the employer to assign PUWER duties and responsibilities, as well as to arrange PUWER inspections by a competent person.
What is a “competent person”?
Anyone who has the knowledge and expertise to carry out the PUWER inspection correctly and at the right time is considered a competent person. This usually is someone who has received PUWER training.
What happens if you don’t follow PUWER?
PUWER regulations are enforced by health and safety inspectors. If you haven’t followed the safety guidelines outlined by PUWER, your equipment may be subject to a prohibition of use order.