The coronavirus outbreak this year brought with it multiple problems for employers and employees alike. Amongst the many issues that duty holders have had to get to grips with, is what to do about scheduled tests and examinations of work equipment.

The law requires that equipment is adequately tested and in the case of lifting equipment, there are specific intervals laid down in codes of practice to establish a frequency. The difficulty for employers has been that the usual contractors may not be available (or able) to carry out the work and financially, there may be other priorities than the continued upkeep of equipment which, for the time being, is not being used.

To help resolve this conundrum, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued new guidance for duty holders and inspectors, setting out how to meet legal obligations in order to carry out thorough examination and testing of equipment during the coronavirus (COVID19) outbreak.

    The requirements for statutory examination and testing are established in various regulations:

  • the Lifting Operations and Lifting EquipmentnRegulations (LOLER)
  • the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations (PSSR)
  • the Provision and Use of Work Equipment (PUWER) (including power presses)
  • the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) (for local exhaust ventilation (LEV))
  • the Electricity at Work Regulations (EWR)

Importantly, the new guide emphasises that for all equipment covered by these regulations:

  • the legal obligation to ensure that work plant and equipment is maintained and is safe to use remains in place
  • an effective maintenance regime is essential to ensure the safety of equipment
  • the use of thorough examination and testing continues to be a legal requirement and should be carried out wherever possible

However, in recognition of the difficulties that employers currently face in trying to comply with these requirements, the HSE confirm that they will now take a “pragmatic and proportionate approach” towards enforcement action if the effects of the coronavirus outbreak prevent dutyholders from fulfilling their requirements, as long as they ensure the equipment remains safe.

Under the new guidance, if an inspector finds that the only failing is that thorough examination and testing is not carried out by the required date, the enforcement response in these circumstances will normally be to take no action. Dutyholders should take note that this will only apply where all reasonable efforts have been made to arrange for thorough examination and testing to be carried out within the statutory time limits. Where equipment falls outside of its test regime, it can continue to be used if dutyholders can demonstrate that it is critical for essential work and can still be operated safely. In addition to proving that they have made reasonable attempts to have thorough examination and testing carried out, they should also have obtained competent advice to produce a thorough assessment of the increased risk and taken appropriate action to manage it. If equipment will not be used, it should be withdrawn from service safely and not reintroduced until all maintenance and inspection activities have been brought up to date.

When considering whether equipment should be taken out of service if the examination period has elapsed, the “primary and overriding statutory obligation” is to ensure that work plant and equipment remain safe to use. Further details (including information on requirements for specific types of equipment) is set out in “Thorough examination and testing of equipment during the coronavirus outbreak: Your legal obligations” which can be found here.

To help employees understand their health and safety obligations, Ligtas has produced a General Health and Safety Awareness eLearning course. The course is designed to ensure that delegates understand that their actions contribute to health and safety in the workplace, and that individual responsibilities are clearly understood.

Andrew Regal