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How often should you be inspecting your ‘ESPE’?

14 June 2011

Many employers are unaware that carrying out regular PUWER inspections may not be enough for them to meet their legal obligations in respect of machinery safety, warns Gary Trewhitt. In particular, special requirements apply to machines that incorporate electro-sensitive protective equipment (ESPE) such a light curtains, and these requirements often fall outside the scope of routine PUWER inspections

To address the increasing use of ESPE in modern machines, where it often takes the place of traditional guarding, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published HSG180, Application of electro-sensitive equipment using light curtains and light beam devices to machinery. This publication is provided for guidance only but, because of the safety critical nature of the use of ESPE, employers are well advised to follow its provisions unless they can demonstrate very good reasons for doing otherwise.

The section of HSG180 that deals with inspection and test states in paragraph 118 that, “installations using ESPE should be inspected at suitable intervals”. In paragraph 124, it goes on to explain that the recommended maximum interval between each periodic inspection and test is six months for type 4 ESPE and twelve months for type 2 ESPE, and that this interval will also depend on the equipment it is fitted to and the risk as a whole.

In other words, there are multiple factors that determine how often ESPE should be inspected and tested but, in many cases, this will be more often than routine PUWER assessments are carried out on the machine.

It is these cases that create a potential pitfall for employers who are not fully aware of the requirements relating to ESPE, as it is now easy to see that simply carrying out regularly scheduled PUWER assessments is not enough – the ESPE will require additional inspection and testing. It is also important to note that, as with PUWER assessments, the inspection and testing of ESPE must be carried out by a person with appropriate competence.

Since many companies have neither the in-house expertise nor the capacity to deal with these additional ESPE inspections, Safety Systems Technology has introduced a new standalone ESPE periodic inspection and test service that can be tailored to suit the requirements of individual sites.

This service accurately follows the guidance given in HSG180 and includes inspection of the ESPE to that ensure that it is the correct distance from the danger zone, ensuring that safeguards are in place to prevent access to the danger zone from directions not covered by the ESPE, testing the response time and detection capability of the ESPE installation, inspecting any stopping performance monitor that may be fitted, and testing primary machine control elements to ensure correct functioning.

Gary Trewhitt is with Safety Systems Technology

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