We all know about how Health and Safety regulations require that equipment provided to employees, be that an office desk or a safety helmet, is fit for purpose. That can be interpreted as no loose parts on the desk and that safety helmets should be suitable for the environment in which they are used.
Health and Safety at Work (HASAW) Act 1974
All of the legislation stems from Section 2 of the HASAW Act 1974, which makes employers responsible for ensuring and, where necessary, making provisions for the health, safety and welfare of employees as far as is reasonably practicable.
Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)
PUWER takes matters further by removing a lot of assumptions from the Health and Safety arena. Not only does equipment need to be fit for purpose but it has to be as safe as can be expected by inspection not only before first use but at regular intervals thereafter. There is also the requirement for users of equipment to have been trained to use it and to be using it in a proper manner, with any protective guards in place.
PUWER applies to all work equipment without restriction as to place or type of business, so even the unitainers (cages on wheels) in a supermarket stock room and the seats at the checkout are covered.
More Specific Legislation
Other regulations are sector-specific, such as those applicable to the construction industry, but there are also regulations relating entirely to specific types of equipment. For example, the requirements of the 1992 regulations for Display Screen Equipment apply to any electronic device which is capable of displaying human-readable content, so they remain relevant to smartphones and tablets, even though they didn’t exist when the regulations were introduced.
Equality Act 2010
This Act identifies a disability as a mental or physical impairment which substantially affects an individual in the long term and which has a negative impact on their ability to cope with normal day to day activities.
An employer with employees falling under the scope of the Act must make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled employees are not operating at a disadvantage when compared with other employees.
This means that any activity which is considered normal practice, accessibility to parts of premises and any particular policies requiring tasks to be undertaken in a specific manner should be reviewed and adjustments made wherever reasonably practicable.
‘Reasonable steps’ will vary according to circumstances but, if steps can be taken but are not, the onus lies on the employer to provide compelling argument wherever steps have not been taken.
In the Round
While it may initially seem that a need to providing special equipment is quite easy to satisfy, when the wider legislative instruments are considered the solution may be less than satisfactory. The employer’s responsibility no longer ends with identifying the correct piece of equipment to reduce risk.