Health and safety law requires employers to conduct certain types of equipment inspection or examination. Ordinarily, this isn’t a major issue – the employer just gets someone in to do it. But what about at the moment with much of the country in lockdown and strict ‘social distancing’ measures in place? What if it is currently not possible to get your usual engineer to visit? Your statutory duties are unaffected by the current crisis, so statutory inspections still need to be done. So what are your options?
‘Statutory inspections’ are needed on some types of equipment, such as lifting equipment, local exhaust ventilation systems, power presses and pressure systems. Examples of relevant inspections include the thorough examination under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998, and pressure vessel examinations conducted in accordance with a written scheme of examination, as per the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000. These are often carried out by a contractor who will visit your site for the purpose.
At the moment, employers may find it hard to get hold of a suitably qualified engineer to conduct the inspection. This can impact the business if critical equipment is offline awaiting inspection – a situation that may continue for some time to come. This could tempt some employers to ignore inspection duties and to carry on regardless. But beware of that course of action – a failure to conduct a statutory inspection when one is due is an offence which may attract enforcement action, so I certainly would not advocate a ‘Carry on regardless’ approach. Having said that, these are extraordinary times so employers need to explore their options when managing this potentially tricky issue. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Can you get someone else to inspect instead of your regular contractor? They will need to be competent, so make sure you check this, but there may be organisations that are still conducting inspections so try shopping around to see what services are available;
- Does the equipment have to be used? Can it be sidelined for the time being? Mothballing equipment that needs to be inspected but which isn’t essential to operations will temporarily obviate the need for an inspection;
- A partial inspection is better than none at all. This isn’t ideal, but it’s better than nothing and shows that the company is at least doing something to meet its statutory duties. Your staff may have the competence to do a limited inspection, so why not consider this as a ‘better than nothing’ option? Of course, if there is any doubt as to the safety of any piece of equipment, then don’t chance it – quarantine it and wait until you can get it properly inspected;
- Consult with your insurers and perhaps even with the Regulator (e.g. HSE); they will be kept in the picture and may be able to offer some guidance;
- Watch out for announcements on forbearance from authorities such as HSE (rather like with the recent suspension of MOT testing for cars). At the time of writing (6 April 2020) no formal announcement on this point has been made but keep an eye out, just in case.
Finally, always record a balanced, suitable and sufficient risk assessment. Doing so will help you to justify your decisions and may help to offset any blame that may later be laid at your door for a failure to conduct a ‘proper’ or ‘thorough’ statutory inspection. The risk assessment may act as mitigation provided the decision-making process has integrity and is properly thought through.
None of the above points are offered as perfect solutions. Instead, I have tried to suggest some courses of action that may help you to manage a difficult situation. Whatever you choose to do, it is important that your company is seen to be doing its best to comply with the law to the fullest extent possible in the circumstances.
Stay safe and well.
Nothing in this brief post should be taken as legal advice – for that, you should always consult your lawyers.