Looking through the HSE prosecution news, it strikes us how many prosecutions are successfully taken by the HSE for failures to provide safe work equipment and systems of work. Only this last 2-3 weeks has seen:
- An international manufacturer in court after a worker lost 3 fingers in a machine due to inadequate guarding: fine + costs totalled £9,742.
- A case against a Cornwall based company after an experienced technician lost his life in a plastic mouldings machine due to poor isolation systems: fine + costs totalled £192,000
- Two Norfolk companies fined after a cleaners hand was crushed in machinery due to not providing sufficient and suitable information, instruction, training and supervision to employees: fines + costs totalled £17,869.
These are not isolated cases but show a consistent tough line taken by the HSE against companies that fail to comply with PUWER and clearly the courts are supporting this with the fines and costs being levied.
Interestingly, this appears to have coincided with a significant increase in PUWER enquiries we have seen over the last few months; is this because of the HSE line or maybe because Insurers are more aware of the risks?
In our experience there are many businesses that need to look carefully at whether they provide the necessary levels of safety with work equipment. All too often work equipment risks are at best considered as part of a general risk assessment and these tend to fail to consider the bigger picture. Compliance with PUWER is not just about guarding as can be seen from the prosecutions above; but that’s often the only part of PUWER that’s considered.
We were challenged recently by another health & safety professional as to why we see it is necessary to undertake PUWER risk assessments; because in his view the general risk assessment approach was good enough. Our answer was: did his assessments look at:
- Whether the equipment was fit for purpose;
- Was it maintained and inspected to a suitable level;
- Were the staff trained (including managers) to understand the safety risks/controls;
- Were suitable emergency procedures in place;
- Did it cover isolations;
- Was the guarding to a suitable level?
These are not all the questions we look at when undertaking PUWER assessments but you get the gist. Strangely enough we did not get a reply back but assume that maybe he is rethinking his approach.
We would urge all businesses to look again at how well they comply with PUWER because if they don`t then the HSE may well do so and the costs of non-compliance can be expensive.