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The power of PUWER

Author : Neil Dyson is Business Line Manager for Machinery Safety at TÜV SÜD Product Service

02 February 2017

Machinery safety is one of the most significant issues facing organisations today. It is equally as important as productivity, and is essential for the wellbeing of everyone involved.

Whether you are designing, manufacturing or importing machinery, you must understand what your legal duties and responsibilities are. For end-users of machinery, it is imperative that they understand the requirements with which their machinery supplier should comply.

The PUWER factor

While all machines supplied in the European Economic Area must comply with the Machinery Directive and be safe, machinery safety is much broader than ensuring compliance with this directive. 

The Work Equipment Directive, is implemented in the UK by Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER), and covers any machinery, appliance, apparatus, tool or installation for use at work (whether exclusively or not) - effectively anything used at work. 

The primary objective of PUWER is to ensure the provision of safe work equipment and its safe use. This has several components, which are interlinked:

• Work equipment should not give rise to risks to health and safety, irrespective of its age or place of origin.

• The Regulations implement European Community (EC) Directive 89/655/EEC, amended by the non-lifting aspects of the Work Equipment Directive (AUWED).

• The Regulations are made under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 (HSW Act), and apply to all users and the self-employed covered by that Act in Great Britain except the crews of sea-going ships.

• These regulations place a requirement to carry out a Risk Assessment on all existing equipment.

• The regulations ask that the electrical system, the guarding and other possible hazards be assessed and corrected if required.

PUWER requires machinery end-user organisations to carry out risk assessments and provide work equipment that is suitable for its intended task and can be used without putting persons at risk. As an overview, it requires that inspections are carried out:

• After installation and before being put into service for the first time; or after assembly at a new site or in a new location to ensure that it has been installed correctly and is safe to operate.

• After work equipment has been exposed to any conditions causing deterioration, which is liable to cause a dangerous situation.

• At suitable intervals; and

• Each time that exceptional circumstances have occurred that are liable to jeopardise the safety of work equipment. 

PUWER also requires that inspections must be repeated ‘at suitable intervals’ if machines are exposed to conditions that may lead to deterioration. In reality, every machine is exposed to conditions that may lead to deterioration, so the requirement effectively means that they must all be regularly inspected. 

The results of these inspections have to be documented and kept until the next subsequent inspection is recorded. This means that there should be a current inspection report kept on file at all times. The PUWER regulations also make it an offense to allow work equipment to be sold or hired (leave an employer’s undertaking), or if obtained from another undertaking, be used, unless it is accompanied by physical evidence that the last inspection has been carried out.

Assessing the risk level

While many machinery end-users may think that they have PUWER compliance covered, TÜV SÜD continue to visit sites where its requirements have been overlooked. It is not uncommon for to identify areas of machinery safety where hazards and issues have not been adequately addressed in the production environment. 

In TÜV SÜD’s experience, many machinery owners assume that if their equipment has a CE mark that no further action is required. However, PUWER applies to all work equipment regardless of its age, including equipment that carries the CE mark. While meeting the requirements of PUWER can be complex, it is not impossible.

Risk assessments ensure that machinery meets the requirements of both the Machinery Directive and PUWER. A thorough and correct risk assessment should therefore be completed before any new machinery goes into operation and if substantial modifications are made. As PUWER assessments are an ongoing process, assessment documentation must always refer to the latest standards and not to the standards that were applicable when a machine was first brought into service. 

The PUWER regulations also require machine users to ensure that the CE marking process has been properly carried out. Regulation 10 of PUWER, “Conformity with European Community Requirements”, requires that an employer must ensure that any equipment subject to European Directives complies with all applicable Essential Health and Safety Requirements (ESHRs) of the Directives that apply to it. Any substantial changes to machinery, such as upgrades, or interlinking with other equipment as part of an assembly, may make the existing CE Marking Declaration of Conformity invalid, and a new conformity assessment may therefore be required.

The 39 steps

In total, there are 39 PUWER regulations. While some of them are very detailed, with some running to approximately 2,500 words, a simple checklist can be constructed to determine the necessary compliance actions. If this process reveals the existence of a potential hazard, then a risk assessment must be carried out, with the implementation and recording of appropriate control measures.

Software is available to help you automate this checklist process, and the suppliers of the best packages will be happy to adapt them as necessary, in order to meet any special requirements. It should also store results locally or “on the Cloud” and produce appropriate reports to confirm that the work has been carried out with due diligence, as well as generate a list of any outstanding action points.

While machinery safety is a complex process, the guidance that is widely available means that there is no excuse for getting PUWER wrong. If in doubt, seek expert advice as the safety of your employees and the reputation of your business may depend upon it.

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