PUWER regulations in a nutshell
Health and safety regulations can seem complicated and confusing to even the most experienced employers, and PUWER is no exception.
If you’ve ever wondered how PUWER regulations affect your business, read our full guide today, where you’ll find out exactly what you need to do to ensure your workforce abides by the work equipment regulations and satisfies health and safety laws.
In this guide, you’ll find out:
- What PUWER is
- How PUWER is enforced
- Who PUWER applies to
- Where PUWER applies
- What training and information employees require under PUWER
- What a PUWER inspection is
- How frequently PUWER inspections should be carried out
- How PUWER inspections should be recorded
- What constitutes as a ‘competent person’ under PUWER
So read on to find out everything you need to know about PUWER.
What is PUWER?
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) place a duty on employers to ensure the work equipment they own, operate, and have control over is safe to use at all times. It applies to any place of work within Great Britain whenever work equipment is used on a business premises.
While the guidance provided in the PUWER Approved Code of Practice and Guidance (PUWER ACOP) is not law, it has special status under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Following this guidance is therefore usually enough to comply with the law, and doing so will keep your employees safe and cover you in the event of an on-site accident, as well as ensure your business passes all on-site health and safety inspections.
In practice, PUWER regulations require employers to:
- Ensure all work equipment is maintained in good condition and efficient working order.
- Keep an up-to-date maintenance log for each piece of work equipment.
- Ensure that all people operating work equipment on-site are provided with adequate levels of training regarding the correct use of the equipment as well as clear and detailed health and safety information.
- Take all necessary measures to prevent or control any risks associated with the operation of work equipment.
How is PUWER enforced?
PUWER is enforced by health and safety inspectors during their regular evaluations of your premises. If you have not followed PUWER regulations with a piece of work equipment, it is liable to be given an improvement or prohibition notice following a health and safety inspection.
A health and safety inspector can issue an improvement notice, as detailed in section 21 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, when they are of the opinion that the owner of a piece of work equipment has not taken the adequate steps to ensure it is safe to use at all times.
In the case of PUWER, an improvement notice is given to a piece of work equipment if it is badly maintained, damaged, or has not undergone the adequate inspections and risk assessment. It may also be served a notice if an inspector feels there are inadequate systems in place to ensure its continued maintenance.
The health and safety inspector will specify a period for compliance of no less than 21 days. They will discuss with the duty holder what actions they can take to comply with PUWER regulations. If the duty holder fails to comply with this notice, it may be upgraded to a prohibition notice.
The prohibition notice is detailed in sections 22 and 23 of the HSWA, and can be issued by a health and safety inspector if they are of the opinion that a piece of work equipment is liable to cause a risk of personal injury to a user. This notice will prohibit the use of the work equipment until the matters giving rise the inspector’s concerns have been remedied.
If you follow PUWER regulations, you will pass health and safety checks and avoid any costly delays due to equipment being put out of action by prohibition notices.
Who does PUWER apply to?
The duty of ensuring that work equipment complies with PUWER regulations falls first and foremost to the employer, who must provide a safe working environment to everyone on their site. This can be achieved by following the guidance in the PUWER APOC to ensure all work equipment is safe to use, as well as keeping employees informed about health and safety issues by following the guidance in the Health and Safety Executive’s Consulting Employees on Health and Safety guide.
For work equipment that is hired, it is important to establish with the company you are hiring the equipment from whose responsibility it is to perform and log the required maintenance. This should be established in writing — this is particularly important with equipment that is being hired over the long term.
If you are self-employed, you still have a duty to ensure that the equipment you use at work complies with PUWER. If you are an employee who provides your work premises with work equipment, even if you are not the one using the equipment, you must ensure it complies with the regulations.
PUWER regulations do not apply directly to employees, but all staff do have the duty to abide by health and safety laws as instructed by their employer, report any safety hazards to their employer, and use work equipment in accordance with the training and instructions they’ve been provided by their employer. If an employee feels unprepared to use the work equipment or thinks doing so as their employer has instructed would be unsafe, then they should seek further instructions before using the equipment.
Where does PUWER apply?
PUWER regulations apply to all pieces of work equipment, a definition that the PUWER ACOP itself describes as “extremely wide”. The term covers any machinery, appliance, tool, or installation used in the workplace that could potentially pose a risk to employees. This includes, but is not limited to:
- ‘Toolbox tools’ such as hammers, saws, and knives.
- Machinery ranging from drilling machines and circular saws to combine harvesters and material handling equipment.
- Laboratory apparatus such as Bunsen burners.
- Lifting equipment such as cranes and lifting trucks (which also have to abide by LOLER regulations — find out everything you need to know about these regulations in our LOLER guide).
- Equipment such as ladders and pressure washers.
- Access equipment such as scaffolding.
- An installation that features several machines joined together, such as a production line.
These regulations cover both new and old work equipment, as well as any that employees provide for their own use. To ensure the work equipment is fit for use at all times, it must go through periodic inspections by a competent person.
PUWER also applies whenever you are providing new work equipment for use on your business premises. As the duty holder, you must ensure that this equipment conforms with the requirements of the relevant European Community law and, if it is new, the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. You must therefore ensure this work equipment:
- is CE marked and free from obvious defects, and
- comes with a Declaration of Conformity and instructions in English.
It is also the employer’s duty to ensure that any risks that a piece of work equipment poses during regular use are controlled through the installation of guards where necessary. This generally applies to potentially hazardous machinery such as paper guillotines and circular saws.
What training and information do employees require under PUWER?
Under PUWER, employers need to ensure that work equipment is only used by those who have received adequate training and instruction to enable them to carry out the work safely. What constitutes adequate training varies depending on the complexity of the work equipment and the employee’s existing level of competence.
The competence of new employees, both permanent and temporary, should be evaluated in order to ensure they are only operating equipment that they are qualified to use. If you require staff to use a piece of equipment they are not currently qualified to operate, then you must provide them with the relevant training before they are left to use the equipment unsupervised.
Any instructions specific to a piece of work equipment should be written down and provided to each employee who will use it. These instructions should include details about how the equipment should be used alongside any potential safety issues that could arise during its operation, as well as advice on how to solve these. Any instructions, guidance, and safety information provided by the manufacturer should also be included.
If an employee spots any more potential safety issues during the everyday use of the equipment, it is their duty to add them to the written instructions and make sure all relevant people are made aware of them.
Manufacturers have a duty to provide all of the information required for the safe installation and operation of their work equipment. In the case of complex machinery, if this is not provided alongside the equipment at the point of sale, you should not proceed with its installation until you’ve contacted the manufacturer and received the necessary schematics.
What is a PUWER inspection?
The purpose of a PUWER inspection is to ensure that a piece of work equipment is safe to operate and any deterioration to the equipment is detected and remedied before it develops into a serious safety risk.
To qualify under PUWER regulations, work equipment must undergo periodic inspections to ensure it is safe to use. Each piece of equipment must also undergo an inspection when it is first installed and whenever it is relocated.
A PUWER inspection should focus on the parts of work equipment that are most likely to deteriorate and pose a risk to a user’s health and safety. Depending on the type of equipment and how often it is used, this may vary from a simple visual examination to a detailed inspection after it has been dismantled.
Simple hand tools generally only require minimal maintenance, and should be repaired or replaced if they deteriorate, to ensure the safety of your employees. More complex work equipment, such as machinery, will usually be accompanied by a user’s manual that will include suggestions regarding routine and specialist maintenance that needs to be performed at certain intervals. If you follow the manufacturer’s guidance and log each instance of maintenance performed by a competent person, this is usually enough to be covered by PUWER regulations.
A PUWER inspection should always include a look at the parts of the equipment that are necessary for the safe operation of equipment, such as emergency stop switches.
How frequently should PUWER inspections be carried out?
The frequency of the inspections is down to the employer’s discretion, but each piece of equipment should be regularly checked to ensure that its safety features are in full working order. The regularity of these inspections should take into account how frequently and intensely each piece of work equipment is used, as well as the risk to a user’s health and safety that would occur from malfunction or failure.
Those with a duty to ensure work equipment complies with PUWER regulations should refer to the user’s manual of more complex machinery for an indication of how frequently to perform an inspection. They should also take into consideration how frequently the equipment is used, as well as the conditions in which it is operated. For example, a piece of work equipment will need to be inspected more regularly if it is used on a construction site than if it is used in the less demanding environment of a warehouse.
The PUWER APOC also notes that an inspection is necessary whenever "exceptional circumstances" have occurred that may affect the safety of the work equipment. These "exceptional circumstances" include:
- Major modifications, refurbishment, or repair work.
- Any known or suspected significant damage.
- A substantial change in the nature of the equipment’s use, including an extended period of use.
How should PUWER inspections be recorded?
Every time a piece of work equipment undergoes a PUWER inspection, the details should be logged for future reference. The PUWER ACOP does not specify a particular format in which these inspections must be recorded, noting anything from a pre-printed form to an entry in a diary is acceptable. However, it does specify that the report should include:
- The type and model of equipment.
- The equipment’s identification mark or number.
- The equipment’s usual location.
- The date of the inspection.
- The name and job title of whoever carried out the inspection.
- Any faults with the equipment.
- Any actions taken or planned to rectify the faults.
- Who the faults have been reported to.
- The date repairs or other necessary actions were carried out.
For consistency and to save time, it's a good idea to create a form that can be printed and filled out whenever a PUWER inspection is performed on your site. However, no matter how you choose to record the information of the PUWER inspections performed on your work equipment, you should make sure to have a digital backup, as you may fail a health and safety inspection if these records are lost or destroyed.
Keeping a detailed maintenance log for each piece of work equipment will ensure that all future inspections can be carried out with this information in mind. In the event of a malfunction, this will also provide evidence that the requisite inspections were performed in order to ensure your employees' safety to the best of your ability.
What constitutes a ‘competent person’?
All PUWER inspections must be carried out by a competent person, which the PUWER ACOP defines as someone who has "sufficient knowledge and experience" to be able to decide:
- what the inspection should include,
- how it should be performed, and
- when it should be carried out.
Depending on the complexity of the equipment, this knowledge and experience may not be available in-house, in which case you should hire a third party to perform the inspection. This also has the added benefit of ensuring the inspection is sufficiently objective, meaning its validity cannot be doubted if there ever is a work equipment–related accident on your premises.
If you buy your work equipment from Penny Hydraulics, you’ll be able to take advantage of our service agreement, which includes a thorough examination from one of our impartial engineers during installation. It also includes the option of an additional third-party examination every 12 months to ensure you meet PUWER regulations each year.
If you have any questions about PUWER regulations that haven’t been answered in this guide, contact us today to speak to one of our experts, who’ll be more than happy to help with your query.
Please bear in mind that the information presented in this short guide is not comprehensive, and you should refer to the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 Approved Code of Practice (PUWER ACOP) for official guidance.