9. Work equipment

There is a great deal of equipment used at work, and much of it can be hazardous. In this context work equipment covers machinery, appliances, apparatus or tools. They can be manual or powered, handheld or large. Examples include:

  • Hand tools – hammer, screw driver, pliers, knife, saw;
  • Powered hand tools – drill, sander, plane, router;
  • Fixed powered tools – drilling machine, power dress, lathe, miller;
  • Vehicles – dump truck, fork lift, crane;
  • Lifts (elevators) – for people or objects;
  • Office equipment – computer, photo copier, TV.

Safety issues related to work equipment

Work equipment hazards

Work equipment can be hazardous when it is being used, maintained, installed, dismantled, moved or cleaned. People who may be harmed include those doing the work and those in the vicinity

The potential hazards include:

  • Moving parts that can cause entanglement (wrap around);
  • Moving parts that can draw-in body parts, hair, clothing (pinch points);
  • Crushing;
  • Shear points (2 edges moving together to cut – scissor action);
  • Sharp edges and points (moving or stationary);
  • Abrasive surfaces;
  • Ejected parts and debris;
  • Fumes, dust, gas, vapour, liquid etc.
  • Hot or cold surfaces;
  • Vibration;
  • Noise;
  • Fire;
  • Electricity;
  • Release of stored energy (spring, pressure);
  • Equipment moving (self-propelled, downhill, being pushed);
  • Equipment turning over.

Risks may occur through the working conditions and the task at hand. It is important to ensure that the correct equipment is selected with these factors in mind, and that equipment is used correctly.

Hand tools

Hand tools can cause injury and the risks need to be managed. Basic precautions include using the appropriate tool for the job, keeping tools in good condition and training people to use the tools. The following specific guidance applies:

  • Hammers – avoid split, broken or loose shafts and worn or chipped heads. Make sure the heads are properly secured to the shafts;
  • Files – these should have a proper handle. Never use them as levers;
  • Chisels – the cutting edge should be sharpened to the correct angle. Do not allow the head of cold chisels to spread to a mushroom shape (grind off the sides regularly);
  • Screwdrivers – never use them as chisels and never use hammers on them. Split handles are dangerous;
  • Spanners – avoid splayed jaws. Scrap any which show signs of slipping. Have enough spanners of the right size. Do not improvise by using pipes etc as extension handles.

Reference – ‘Use work equipment safely’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg229.pdf

Powered work equipment

Work equipment is often powered by electricity, which requires certain precautions (see separate section in this book). Others means of power include pneumatic (pressured air) and powder activated (i.e. cartridge). These are typically more hazardous that hand tools and their use requires additional precautions. The key stages to managing the risks from powered work equipment include:

  • Select the correct equipment for the job;
  • Make sure equipment is properly maintained and repaired;
  • Make sure components are in good condition (e.g. blunt bits and blades can increase vibration and noise);
  • Inspect equipment and keep records;
  • Users to check equipment before use;
  • Users to be trained and provided with information and instructions;
  • Use guards;
  • Use in a good environment (e.g. lighting, temperature).

It must be possible to maintain, clean, erect and dismantle equipment safely. Ideally these activities are performed when powered equipment is stopped and de-energised. However, this is not always possible, in which case safe systems of are required to manage the risks.

Signs and notices should be posted on equipment to provide warning about hazards. Also, measures should be taken to prevent unauthorised use. Modifications to equipment should be carried out by competent people. ‘Cheater bars’ and other ad hoc devices and levers should not be used.

Selecting and purchasing equipment

It is important that the correct equipment is used for the job. This means it has to be able to perform the required tasks safely and complies with legislation. International standards and the CE (Conformité Européenne) mark can give some reassurance that an item has reached a certain standard. However, it must be recognised that the time taken to develop and publish standards means that they will always lag behind best practice.

If safety is not adequately considered when selecting and purchasing equipment it is easy to select items that appear to be suitable for the job based on price. However, if safety features have not been included there can be some considerable cost in retrofitting them. This can mean that the overall cost is actually higher, especially if employee time is considered, and retrofitted features are often less effective than those built into the item at manufacture from both and safety and efficiency of work perspective. Also, modifications can invalidate warrantees.  

Equipment guards

Guards are put in place to keep people away from moving parts and to contain ejected hazards. Where guards cannot be used some other controls may be possible (e.g. keeping people away from the danger zone using barriers, procedures etc.).

A fixed guard is attached to the machine and forms a physical barrier between people and hazards. They should be attached in a way that requires a special tool to remove. They are simple but can restrict use of the equipment. They are most useful when the guard only needs to be removed infrequently.

Interlocked guards can be moved to a position that does not provide protection, but the interlock stops the machine and does not allow it to be started unless the guard in is the correct position. In some cases the guard cannot be moved whilst the machine is running.

As well as deciding between fixed and interlocked guards, their design and materials of construction need to be considered. Issues to consider include:

  • Strength (to withstand ejected items);
  • Rigidity (so cannot be deformed and hence bypassed);
  • Durability;
  • Visibility for the user to see the job at hand;
  • Clearance to allow the job to be set-up;
  • How it is fixed to the machine;
  • Ventilation to allow heat or fumes to escape.

Other options for keeping people safe when equipment is in use include enclosing it, with an interlock on the door so that the machine cannot start whilst the door is open. Also, procedural controls can keep people out of the area, possibly with addition of optical sensors acting as interlocks.

A ‘dead mans handle’ requires the operator to continually press a switch or similar and cause the equipment to stop if they let go. This can ensure the operator remains in a safe position and remains in control at all times so that they can stop the equipment immediately if required. It may not prevent others accessing hazardous areas, although obviously the operator can intervene if necessary.

Work equipment operating controls

Consideration needs to be given to how people are going to control the equipment. This includes:

  • Starting – being in position to confirm safe to start before operating;
  • Stopping;
  • Stopping in emergency – may require quicker stop than normal and/or isolating from power source;
  • Making changes to direction, speed etc.

Inspecting and maintaining work equipment

Where the safety of work equipment depends on the way it is installed it is important that it is inspected after installation and before the first time it is used.

Where it is possible that the condition of the work equipment may deteriorate through use or the conditions it is exposed to it is important that it is inspected at suitable intervals and after any exceptional event or circumstance that may have deterioration.

Where identified as necessary, records of inspection results and maintenance carried out must be made; and these records must be kept up to date.

Work equipment regulations

Provision and use of work equipment regulations 1998 (PUWER)

PUWER 1998 are very wide ranging regulations covering almost every type of equipment used at work. In general terms, the Regulations require that equipment provided for use at work is:

  • Suitable for the intended use;
  • Safe for use, maintained in a safe condition and, in certain circumstances, inspected to ensure this remains the case;
  • Used only by people who have received adequate information, instruction and training;
  • Accompanied by suitable safety measures, e.g. protective devices, markings, warnings.

Reference – ‘Simple guide to the provision and use of work equipment regulations 1998’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg291.pdf

Reference – Approved Code of Practice L22 ‘Safe use of work equipment. Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l22.pdf

Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992 (amended 1994)

These regulations place a duty on manufacturers of machinery to ensure that their machinery conforms to all relevant health and safety legislation. If the manufacturer is located in the European Union this conformity is indicated by a ‘CE’ mark attached to the machinery and provision of a ‘Declaration of Conformity’ or ‘Declaration of Incorporation’ where the item is to be incorporated with others. If machinery is manufactured outside of the European Union, but is intended for use within it, the duty is placed on the importer.

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