In the regulations, work equipment is defined as meaning any machine, apparatus, tool or installation used at work. This definition covers all types of work equipment from the largest machine to the smallest handtool. It also covers lifting equipment.
The hazards associated with unguarded machinery can vary greatly from a simple cut to an amputation or to a fatality. Robust guards must be provided to prevent the operator and/or others being exposed to the machine’s moving part but must also allow for repair and maintenance work to be carried out. There are many different types of guards and the appropriate type e.g. fixed, interlock, adjustable, safety-trips, control, two-hand, gate must be fitted.
Where lifting equipment is used, employers must ensure safe lifting loads are clearly marked on machinery and are adhered to by staff in order to guard against injury/fatality to the user or their colleagues. Lifting equipment includes vehicle lifting tables, ropes, lifting tackle, chains, and cranes).
When using mobile work equipment, employers are required to ensure that work equipment with ride-on-employees is fitted in such a way as to reduce the risks to employees, including the risk of contact with, or trapping by wheels or tracks.
Accidents can also occur where an employee is cleaning a machine. Where possible, maintenance operations should be carried out when the machinery is shut down or if this is not possible, protective measures must be taken the keep the employee safe i.e. a safe system of work must exist and be followed. Non-routine interventions such as dismantling and cleaning require the isolation of all energy sources. The isolation should be tested and secured by means of tagging or locking.. Permit to work systems should also be considered to provide a higher level of organisational control.
Employers are required to ensure that:
- the equipment is suitable for the work to be carried out;
- equipment selection takes account of the working conditions, characteristics and hazards of the workplace;
- he/she must ensure that work equipment can be used without risk to the user or at the very least, the employer must minimize the risk;
- where the equipment involves a specific risk, its use must be restricted to those employees who are required to use it;
- only competent employees should carry out repairs/modifications to the work equipment;
- employees must have adequate information and training to use the machine safely;
- where appropriate, written instructions on the use of the work equipment are provided.
The controls on any machinery must be visible and identifiable and be placed outside the danger zone. If this is not possible, the machinery must have audible or visible warning signs which are automatically activated when the machinery is about to start. These warning mechanisms should be clear and easily understood. The controls must be constructed in such a manner to ensure that deliberate action is necessary to start the machinery and that the controls can stop a machine completely and safely. The machine must also have an emergency stop device which should have priority over the start controls.