HSE issues statement on equipment inspections
Published: 31 Mar 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 has presented its own unique challenges, especially to businesses trying to continue in operation when social distancing rules and social lockdown is being enforced. It is particularly difficult, as a business, to understand how this period of uncertainty affects health and safety duties.

Cedrec has written a short guide about keeping your distance at work, which could be useful to those working on premises which are still open.

When it comes to equipment; under key safety legislation such as the Pressure Systems Safety Regulation SI 2000/128, the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations SI 1998/2307 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations SI 1998/2306, employers must carry out inspections of equipment periodically. Many businesses will therefore have upcoming equipment inspection deadlines looming and are uncertain what to do in such circumstances. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued the below statement to clarify the situation:

HSE Statement on COVID-19 and equipment inspections

"Duty-holders have a legal responsibility to maintain work equipment and carry out thorough examinations, written schemes and Statutory Inspections. These legal duties exist to help manage the significant hazard that the failure of such equipment can pose, not complying with these duties can significantly increase the risk of harm to workers and members of the public. Under certain circumstances with the agreement of a suitable competent person, some legislation does allow thorough examinations/statutory inspections to be postponed to a later date. Even if such options are taken, it remains the duty-holders responsibility to ensure that the equipment is safe to use.

If engineering companies are suffering shortages in their own resources, they should consider focusing this resource/expertise on equipment in premises where the most vulnerable are located such as hospitals, care homes and infrastructure which is essential to the running of the country.

Engineers who are working on sites where there are restrictions arising from the risk of COVID-19 infection should comply with site rules and take into account the wider Public Health England advice regarding good hygiene practices and separation distances. Consideration needs to be given to protecting the engineers but also, where relevant, any vulnerable persons who may be affected by their work.

At the current time, HSE is not considering issuing exemptions or relaxation of these requirements, but we recognise this is a fluid situation and this position is constantly under review."

Materials Handling and Plant Equipment

The HSE has also issued a joint statement with the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA) and the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA).

The statement stresses the importance to protect staff as much as possible, which has sometimes involved banning external parties from entering a site. Whilst this is commendable, there is a concern that this could lead to important considerations being ignored.

It states:

"The importance of control measures around the use of Materials Handling and Plant Equipment should not be taken lightly. Sadly, it is not uncommon for these types of equipment to be involved in serious or even fatal accidents when they are not managed correctly and as a responsible user, we are sure you are all too aware of this.

The ongoing scheduled maintenance, repair and statutory inspection of Materials Handling and Plant Equipment is fundamental to its safe use. By stopping these activities, users are at very serious risk of jeopardising the safety of their staff and any person the equipment interacts with. Failure to maintain, repair and inspect equipment within agreed guidelines leads to component failures, damage and ultimately accidents."

"Whilst we appreciate these are unprecedented times, these fundamental requirements remain in place as a strict expectation for any business operating Materials Handling and Plant Equipment. The joint recommendation from BITA, the FLTA and the Health and Safety Executive, is that scheduled maintenance, repairs and statutory inspections must be considered essential ongoing activities for any users of such equipment.

Whilst equipment remains operational, it is imperative for the safety of your staff and the overall legal compliance of your business, that you allow your service and maintenance provider – and where applicable – your Thorough Examination provider, ready access to the equipment in order to keep it safe and compliant."

Next steps

If equipment inspection deadlines are approaching, it is recommended that you have a conversation with those responsible for maintaining such equipment and formulate a suitable and, importantly, safe solution to equipment safety inspections.