Plant and Equipment Testing Under Covid-19 Needs Careful Risk Handling

Covid-19 is placing strains on resources across the employment spectrum and in all industries, to some extent or other.  In manufacturing and engineering, however, the lack of availability of machinery service and testing specialists, coupled with often reduced internal manpower and backlogs in testing by official examiners, is creating a situation with heightened risk and serious health and safety ramifications.

Statutory examination and testing of equipment during Covid-19 is required by several health and safety regulations, including: the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER); the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 (PSSR); the Provision and Use of Work Equipment 1998 (PUWER), including power presses; the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 (COSHH) – for local exhaust ventilation (LEV) – and the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EWR).

Anyone operating plant and equipment covered by these regulations needs to ensure it is safe to use.  The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has made it clear that the responsibility is not removed by Covid-19 but it stresses it is also recognising the issues being faced.  It states it is adopting “a pragmatic and proportionate approach towards enforcement action if the effects of the coronavirus outbreak prevent dutyholders meeting their thorough maintenance and testing duties for equipment in use, as long as the equipment remains safe.”[1]

Where a company can demonstrate that Covid-19 prevented the examination and testing of equipment being carried out by the required date, there is some flexibility for manufacturing and engineering companies and others governed by the regulations.  All reasonable efforts to meet the scheduled testing date need to be made, however, and preparing everything in advance of the inspectors’ arrival is crucial, to minimise their time on the premises and the Covid-19 risks.

Safety-critical plant must continue to operate safely and effectively.  If examinations cannot be carried out, a dutyholder may need to withdraw equipment from operation.  In some cases, machinery may need some specific servicing, before being allowed to stand idle.  Competent advice should be sought with regard to all equipment that cannot be inspected in accordance with its due testing date.

What is apparent is the requirement to document all efforts that have been made to have plant examined, the decision-making process that was adopted and the factors that led to any decision to continue to operate plant or equipment past its testing date.  Regular reviews of the situation are necessary and an attempt to become compliant, once again, should be made as soon as possible.

Companies operating plant and equipment under these regulations should carry out an in-depth risk assessment of their assets, considering other options available, the degree of harm that could result from using an un-examined piece of equipment and any concerns about the equipment’s safety which are raised by operatives.  Much more needs to be included, with guidance on this available from the HSE website.[2]

This situation is far from easy to handle and you should talk to your insurance broker about impacts on your current insurance policy, if you continue to operate untested machinery or if you bring other processes or machinery into your production regime.  This could affect your risk and the overall premium required to cover it.  

Considering Directors & Officers insurance may also be advisable. This protects personal assets, should a managerial decision prove wrong or cause harm, resulting in some form of litigation or legal action against a director or manager/officer. With many manufacturers and engineers having to make judgement calls about the safety of machinery and equipment, their personal risk is being increased.

To find an insurance broker with the expertise you need to navigate this situation, please get in touch.

Sources:[1] https://www.hse.gov.uk/msd/dse/