During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, businesses may have found it difficult to carry out their legal duty to thoroughly examine and test equipment.
The government has announced a phased approach to the reopening of sectors as coronavirus restrictions are eased.
Organising the return to periodic thorough examination and testing is a priority and will need to be planned. Dutyholders should take into account the additional backlog of work required of their competent person in response to easing of lockdown restrictions as workplaces, sports activities, leisure, retail and services reopen across England, Scotland and Wales.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will adopt a phased and proportionate approach to resuming proactive regulatory intervention in checking compliance with statutory requirements.
HSE will expect businesses and organisations to have a plan in place for resuming thorough examination and testing of their equipment.
Requirements in law
Several pieces of health and safety regulations cover formal examination and testing. These include:
- Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations
- Pressure Systems Safety Regulations
- Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (for paper-cutting guillotines, most fairground equipment and power presses)
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (for local exhaust ventilation, and other engineering controls and respiratory protective equipment)
- Electricity at Work Regulations
For equipment covered by these regulations, the following requirements remain in place:
- work plant and equipment must be maintained and safe to use
- an effective maintenance regime is still essential to make sure equipment is safe
- examination and testing is still a legal requirement and a fundamental part of risk management
Difficulties in examining and testing equipment during the pandemic
Difficulties associated with the lockdown may have resulted in equipment being operated without a current thorough examination and testing or being non-operational for a prolonged period. In these circumstances, dutyholders should contact their competent person and arrange for thorough examination and testing at the earliest practicable opportunity.
As required by previous guidance, the dutyholder should have records in place specifying how equipment was maintained in a safe condition during lockdown. These records must be provided to the competent person for review, as they may influence the depth and content of any subsequent thorough examination and testing.
It is particularly important that information about how the equipment has been kept in a safe condition includes evidence of a robust inspection and additional maintenance carried out by people with the necessary skills, experience and knowledge.
Where powered equipment (such as a stairlift or lifting platform) includes battery backup, any prolonged outage may have affected the ongoing operational integrity of the battery as a power source.
This will require the dutyholder to review the ongoing safety and reliability of the powered equipment with the competent person if batteries have been left on continuous charge, or if they have significantly discharged.
Managing equipment safety during the pandemic
Equipment failure because of deterioration can create dangerous situations, physical harm and business disruption. It is therefore important that plant and machinery continues to be properly maintained and inspected.
There is detailed guidance (PDF) with additional advice for dutyholders and inspectors on:
- managing safe working arrangements for equipment inspection
- prioritising inspection activity
- what to do if a thorough examination cannot be done
- how to manage the risks if you cannot arrange thorough examination and testing
- offshore/onshore major hazard industries and pipelines
While the lifting of the restrictions is conditional upon several factors, businesses and organisations should prepare and plan to ensure:
- thorough examination and testing is carried out within the stated period for the equipment concerned by a competent person, in accordance with the appropriate regulations
- equipment whose period between thorough examination and testing has exceeded or will exceed the maximum specified by the appropriate regulations, due to problems caused by the pandemic, is identified and examined and tested thoroughly at the earliest practicable opportunity
- equipment that has been non-operational for a prolonged period is returned to service in a planned and safe way
- equipment requiring thorough examination and testing that has been non-operational for a prolonged period, is subject to thorough examination and testing before being returned to service
- equipment remains in a safe condition
Equipment likely to be affected by lockdown measures
It’s likely that a large and wide range of equipment will need attention after lockdown.. Dutyholders should therefore carry out surveys of all their assets and determine which equipment has been affected.
Equipment expected to be included in these requirements include (but are not limited to):
- passenger lifts including stair lifts andlifting platforms
- goods lifts, service lifts and dumb waiters
- patient hoists
- local exhaust ventilation (LEV)
- café boilers
- pressure equipment
- exercise equipment
- most fairground equipment
- vehicle lifts
- lifting equipment, for example forklift trucks, cranes and hoists
- airport lifts
- electrical equipment
Other equipment of particular relevance to managing the risk from coronavirus
Some of the equipment identified in your COVID-19 risk assessment as essential risk control measures may not have thorough examination and testing requirements under the legislation detailed above. However, you still have a general duty to ensure that this equipment is operating safely and effectively.
In particular, where adequate ventilation plays a vital role in helping to reduce the transmission of the virus, you should ensure that any relevant heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVACs), are examined and tested by suitably competent people.