Duties of Manufacturers etc.
The Health, Safety and Welfare at Work legislation places obligations on manufacturers and suppliers, importers of substances, plant, equipment and other things used in the workplace. These supplements the obligations that apply under the product liability directive regarding the safety of products.
Manufacturers and importers must provide information on the safe use, installation, cleaning and maintenance of products and equipment in the workplace. There is a continuing obligation on the supplier. This may require the updating of information periodically. Persons who erect and assemble equipment must do so in a manner that ensures that it is safe in use.
Manufacturers and importers must provide information regarding the requirements for use of product and substances. The information must identify the risks associated with the product, the results of tests carried out and the conditions necessary for safe handling, use, storage, transportation and disposal.
Importers of products and substances into the European Union undertake the obligations of manufacturers. Where financing companies acquire products or substances and lease them, or sell them under credit sale agreements, the obligations are owed by the original manufacturers and importers, and not the financiers.
Health Safety and Welfare at Work legislation makes provision for the safety of workplace equipment. The Workplace Equipment Regulations are an integral part of the principal, health, safety and welfare at work legislation. They apply to existing equipment, as well as equipment acquired after their commencement. They replaced earlier legislation in similar terms.
“Equipment” covers any machinery, appliance, apparatus, tool or installation for use at work. It includes a wide range of objects and things, ranging from items that are inherently dangerous to things which do not appear to be dangerous in themselves.
The equipment regulations obligations may apply in different ways, in a range of settings workplaces. Their application ranges from the use of machinery in a factory to the use of equipment in an office setting. What they cover, will depend on the nature of the workplace. In one context, equipment may include large-scale, complex processing equipment. In another context, it may include filing cabinets, photocopiers, digital display and digital screen equipment.
The equipment regulations require that every activity which involves work equipment, including its installation, use, starting, stop and repair, modification, maintenance and disposal must be undertaken with appropriate precautions. This includes cleaning, erecting, installing, maintaining, operating, planning, moving, servicing and transporting.
Equipment provided for use in the workplace must comply with the appropriate standards for the product in question. Many products standards have been harmonised in accordance with the EU single market CE standards. The Directive on Machinery deals with a number of significant types of workplace machinery and equipment, which are potentially dangerous.
Most standards are not prescribed by law, but by industry standards. Outside of the European standards and norms, there are Irish Standards (IS) and British Standards (BS) which may be relevant to workplace equipment. Even if the industry standards are not themselves of legal effect, they may in effect be required by health obligations under health, safety and welfare at work legislation.
British or Irish standards may apply where there are no European standards or norms applicable. Several British and Irish standards deal specifically with equipment commonly used in the workplace. Many elements of the standards seek to protect health, safety and welfare generally and in the workplace.
Selection of Equipment
The employer must select work equipment that can be used without risk. This must be done in the context of the particular workplace in which they are used. Risks related both to normal operations and exceptional hazards must be considered. It may be necessary to have controls to prevent overheating, harmful emissions. Coolants, ventilation, trip switches, etc. may mitigate the risk.
In some cases, the regulations may require that existing equipment to be replaced. More commonly, retrofitting may be allowed. There may be “grandfathering”, i.e. exemptions, for particular equipment which was already in place at a specified date.
The setting must be consistent with any requirements which the equipment may have, physical or environmental. There must be suitable facilities and possibilities for working on and maintaining the equipment. The environment, in which the equipment is situated, must itself be safe, in terms of lighting, heating, and the discharge of fumes and liquids.
A number of cases have held employers to a high standard, in terms of the suitability of equipment. Employers are likely to be held liable in negligence and for breach of duty, where workplace equipment proves to be in fact unsuitable in the circumstances and causes personal injury or other damage.
Setting for Equipment
Work equipment must be suitably marked to ensure the safety and health of employees. Warnings must be prominent and must disclose the relevant risks.
Employers must ensure that there are safe means of access to and from the equipment for its operation, management and maintenance.
Any fuels and substances used or produced by the equipment must be removed so as to prevent risk from leaking, erosion and corrosion.
The employer must ensure that the work practices and workplace are appropriate to the equipment. Equipment must only be used in a manner that is safe and in accordance with its specifications.
Information / Training re Equipment
Employees must be made aware of the safety and health risks related to and associated with the work equipment. Employers must take the necessary steps to ensure that employees have at their disposal, adequate equipment and where appropriate, written instructions on work equipment.
Instructions must contain adequate safety and health information, regarding the conditions of use of the equipment, foreseeable abnormal situations and the effect and conclusions to be drawn from experience, in using the equipment.
The information and training to be provided will depend on the circumstances. The experience of the employees may be taken into account. If the equipment is new or novel, more extensive maintenance information and equipment will be required.
Maintenance / Testing of Equipment
Employers must maintain work equipment at a sufficient level, in compliance with general and specific obligations in the regulations, throughout its working life. Where possible, maintenance should be undertaken while the machinery is shut down. Proper protection measures should be put in place during maintenance. A maintenance log must be kept for any machine. It must be maintained up-to-date.
An employer must ensure, that where the safety of work equipment depends on the manner and circumstance of installation, that an initial inspection is carried out after installation and before the equipment is put into service. It must be verified that it has been installed correctly and that it is operating.
Where equipment is liable to deteriorate, there must be periodic inspections and testing. This is also required where exceptional circumstances arise, which may render the equipment unsafe.
The inspections must be made by competent persons, and the results must be recorded. The users must have access to the records. Records must be maintained for five years. The HSA may inspect records.
Switches / Controls
Employers must ensure that all work equipment is fitted with clearly identifiable means to isolate it from its energy sources. The reconnection to the energy sources must pose no risk to employees. These provisions cover electricity and insulation. Electricity may transmit through metal and other conducting material, in the absence of insulation. It is, therefore, critical that electricity is isolated. Energy isolators must be clearly identifiable.
There is a range of requirements regarding control devices. They must be visible, identifiable and marked appropriately. It must be located in a way and used in a manner that does not cause additional danger. Control systems must be safe and must make allowances for possible failures, faults and constraints.
It must be possible to start the work equipment, only by deliberate action on a control / starting device provided for that purpose. The control should apply to starting, restarting and significant changes in operations. The controls must be effective in stopping the equipment completely.
This stop control must override the start and energy supplies, which must be disconnected on switching. An emergency stop device may be required in some cases. It should override and switch off the equipment.
The obligation to fence equipment is one of the oldest obligations in the health, safety and welfare at work legislation and the predecessor, Safety in Industry and Factories Acts. Where there is a risk of physical contact with moving parts which could lead to accidents, those parts should be provided with guards or protection devices in order to prevent accidents and halt the movement of dangerous parts, before the danger zones are reached.
Guards and protective devices, where required must be robust and must not give rise to additional hazards. They must not be easily removed or rendered inoperative. They must not restrict more than necessary, the view of the operating cycle of the equipment. They must restrict access for maintenance work, only to the area where the work is to be carried out.
Work equipment must be stabilised or clamped, where necessary for health and safety. Where there is a risk of equipment disintegrating so as to be liable to cause danger, appropriate protection measures must be taken. Work equipment, which poses risks due to falling objects or projections, must be fitted with appropriate safety devices.
Warnings devices on work equipment must be unambiguous and easily understood. Any parts of the stock bar which project beyond the headstock of a lathe must be securely fenced unless it is in such a position so as to be safe to employees, as it would be if securely fenced.
Mobile Equipment I
Employers must ensure that the wheels and tracks of mobile equipment are fitted so as to reduce risk during use. Drive shafts must safely disengage, be supported on a cradle where provided or by other means, to give equivalent protection from damage.
Where the hazards relate to the emission of gas, vapours and dust, etc., there must be appropriate extraction devices at or near the source of the hazard. Mobile equipment with engines must not be used in working areas, save under conditions dealing with the removal of exhaust gases. The necessary ventilation should be provided. Potentially toxic or explosive vapours and gases should be drawn off.
Mobile work equipment must be designed to protect from the risk of rollover, through anti-roll over devices and rollover protective systems. Risks are particularly high with tractors and certain construction site vehicles. Safety belts may be required, so as to ensure that persons are protected in the event of a rollover. In certain cases, rollover bars are not required where it would increase overall risks.
Mobile Equipment II
Forklift trucks must be protected from the risks of overturning through the installation of an enclosure for the driver, a structure preventing overturning, sufficient provision for clearance for overturning together with a seat belt, in order to protect the employee in the event of turning over.
Self-propelled work equipment must have adequate breaks and stopping devices. Where there are, risks arising from the failure of breaks, a secondary braking system is required.
If work equipment is mobile and moves around in the work area, appropriate traffic systems must be drawn up and implemented. Organisational steps must be taken in order to prevent employees from coming into contact with the self-propelled equipment. The transportation of the employees on mobile equipment is only allowed, where safe facilities are provided.
Lifting Operations I
The health, safety and welfare at work regulations make detailed provisions regarding lifting equipment and operations. Lifting equipment including cranes, forklift truck, hoists, mobile work forms must be safe and must comply with a number of requirements.
Lifting activities must be planned, supervised and competently executed. Competent persons only must be used. They must be used safely and operated only by competent people. Lifting equipment must be of sufficient strength and stability. They must be positioned so as to prevent the risk of injuries. Working loads must be adequately identified and labelled.
Lifting equipment must be maintained regularly. It must be examined by a competent party at regular intervals.
Lifting Operations II
The equipment must be of suitable strength and stability. The manufacturer’s specifications and instructions on the terms of its use should be followed. It must not be used beyond its safe loads.
Both fixed and mobile lifting equipment must be tested by a competent person and certified before use. In the case of mobile work equipment, if it is new and has the appropriate the CE mark, declaration of conformity and a certificate of test and examination, this will satisfy the requirement, provided that it has not been reassembled.
Where any alteration or repair is carried out to any lifting equipment or accessory which is relevant to the safe operation, it must be certified by a competent person. There is a specific provision in respect of certain types of equipment, which require periodical examination. Most required examinations range between six and twelve month intervals.
Civil Actions I
Numerous civil actions have arisen where workplace injuries have been caused by unsafe working equipment and associated systems. Many accidents have happened because of the sudden failure of equipment which has caused serious or catastrophic injury. Even where the employer has used experts and consultants, he may not necessarily fully discharge his statutory obligations.
Workplace accidents may be attributable to failures in equipment and in the procedures in relation to their use.
Many of the obligations in relation to equipment are in unconditional or near unconditional terms so that in the event of a failure or incident causing personal injuries, there is a likelihood that a breach of duty will be found.
Civil Actions II
The failure to provide safe equipment has been the subject of numerous claims not only in factory and industrial settings but also in office and other settings.
The employer may be found liable for failing to select proper equipment, install it, failure to train, failure to maintain safe systems, failure to test and retest equipment and the failure of fellow employees in terms of competence and training.
An employer will generally be held to apprehend the risk that employees may on occasions misuse equipment. Acts which are outside the proper use of the equipment may nonetheless, remain the responsibility of the employer so that it is liable in negligence / breach of duty for misuse.
References and Sources
Safety, Health and Welfare and at Work Law in Ireland 2nd Ed 2008 Byrne Ch 31 & 41
Safety & Health Acts Consolidated & Annotated 2013 Byrne
Health, Safety & Welfare Law in Ireland 2012 Kinsella Ch 2
Health & Safety: Law and practice 2007 Shannon
Health & Safety at Work 1998 Stranks Ch.11
Civil Liability for Industrial Accidents 1993 While
The Health and Safety Authority www.hsa.ie
Health and Safety Executive (UK) www.hse.gov.uk
Tolleys Health and safety at work, 2017 29th ed Bamber,
Corporate liability: work related deaths and criminal prosecutions 3rd ed. Author FORLIN, G.
Health and safety at work: European and comparative perspective Author ALES, E., ed.
Health and Safety Law 5th Ed 2005 Stranks
Principles of Health and Safety at Work (8th ed) Holt, Allan St. John; Allen, Jim;
The Law of Health and Safety at Work 2014/15 (23rd ed) Moore, Rachel; Winter, Hazel;
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 S.16
European Communities (Machinery) Regulations 2008 (S.I. No. 407 of 2008)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 370 of 2016)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 70 of 2016)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 36 of 2016)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 445 of 2012)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 (S.I. No. 176 of 2010)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 732 of 2007)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 299 of 2007)