ALL ABOARD THE PUWER GRAVY TRAIN

Legislation can be a powerful selling tool; or a lethal weapon. Take, for example PUWER, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations, which gained a full set of teeth on January 1. Industry had a duty to comply with regulations one to 10 from 1 January 1993. Only this year did the remaining regulations […]

Legislation can be a powerful selling tool; or a lethal weapon. Take, for example PUWER, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations, which gained a full set of teeth on January 1.

Industry had a duty to comply with regulations one to 10 from 1 January 1993. Only this year did the remaining regulations come into force, placing a duty on firms to ensure risk to workers’ safety had been properly assessed and acted upon, if necessary. At first glance, the legislation is onerous and places still greater burdens on an industry already concerned about its competitiveness in global markets.

In reality, those already complying with the Health and Safety at Work Act should have nothing to fear.

This hasn’t stopped some unscrupulous suppliers of equipment and consultancy services from cashing in on industry’s ignorance of the law. European requirements designed to harmonise trade in machinery have provided a fertile ground for such commercial scams. And some elements of the process control industry are not beyond reproach in this respect, it seems, if anecdotal evidence provided by the HSE is to be believed.

It says no-one – not even the big multinationals – is immune to being duped in this way. Commercial promiscuity is, it seems, a powerful narcotic.

Complaints of commercial harassment and blatant misrepresentation by some safety equipment and systems suppliers have highlighted some interesting cases.

There was the Midlands based company which insisted its range of emergency stop controls with relays that cannot arc or weld are a requirement of the new legislation.

Then there was the elevator company which sent a UK-wide circular to lift-owners claiming that PUWER required guards to be fitted to all revolving lift machinery by the end of 1996. `This is not the case’, says Marie Power, head of General and Technical Safety Policy at the HSE. `The appropriate level of safeguarding for any particular lift machinery has always depended on risk’.

A Northern engineering company also attracted the attention of the HSE by writing to clients in the power generation, steelmaking, mining and chemical industries warning them of new requirements for conveying equipment. Failure to comply would result in `serious financial and legal consequences’.

The problem stems from what Power describes as `the volume and overlapping nature of some European legislation’.

The reality is that after four years on the statute book there has been not a single prosecution arising directly from the new legislation, according to an HSE spokesman.