It appears that many businesses are unaware of what the guarding requirements are for their machinery; which is often seen from the numerous prosecutions being taken by the HSE. The problem is that these businesses (through either ignorance or from bad advice) just do not know what is expected of them.
In December 2009 the Machinery Safety Directive was updated and this introduced a new set of requirements for guarding. These included:
- That all fixed guards must be removable only with the aid of tools. This was the case with the previous directive but this update requires that fixing systems must now remain attached to the guards when the guards are removed. This confirms that ordinary machine screws and bolts can be used unless provision is made for the screws and bolts to be held captive when the guard is removed.
- Guards must protect against the ejection of falling materials and objects (e.g. if a grinding wheel explodes, can the guard contain the explosion?).
- Guards must be incapable of remaining in position when their fixings have been removed; this includes consideration guards on top of machines that are not retained in position by gravity when their fixings have been removed.
- Careful consideration must be given to if an interlock system could reasonably and foreseeably be defeated at the interlocking device itself; means should be in place to minimise the possibility of defeat. The employer will be expected to consider this as part of its risk assessment.
We routinely come across workplaces where these changes will catch out companies if the HSE were to come visiting. In fact, one recent visit to North London identified a whole host of machinery non-compliance issues with guards either not fixed in place (relying on gravity), or not in place at all. We were not on-site to review the machinery but felt obligated to raise the issues; the management on-site appeared unaware of what the regulations required.
If your business has machinery that requires guarding then you need to make it a priority to update your risk assessments; failure to do so is leading to a significant increase in prosecutions and fines. In July alone the HSE has posted 4 prosecutions for PUWER failures on its website news pages.
One of these was a Walsall bacon curing company which was fined after an employee lost three fingers while operating machinery. The firm, based at Bloxwich, pleaded guilty to contravening Regulation 11 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £31,000 costs. Could your business afford this?