Safe Use and Maintenance of Equipment & Tools in the Workplace

Tools and equipment may be as simple as hammers or as complex as computers. Whatever they are, however, workers must use them safely and employers must reduce any risk in the workplace that tools and equipment pose.

workplace safety sign

Safe Use of Equipment & Tools in the Workplace

These risks posed by equipment and tools in the work environment can vary greatly. For example, if your workplace uses vibrating tools and machinery you’ll need to assess the risk they pose and ensure compliance with appropriate safety laws.

Above all, what matters is that whoever has to use any tool or piece of equipment as part of their job does so with care. To ensure safe use, employers must train staff and provide suitable workplace information.

They must also check that staff have the appropriate qualifications to use intricate tools and equipment. In addition, as part of their health and safety strategy employers should offer refresher training. This isn’t necessary for basic items, but when certain tools and equipment change, refresher training improves skills and reminds users of safety procedures.


Safe Workspaces

You need to keep the workplace clean and safe for all and ensure that people are protected from falling from heights or being exposed to hazardous substances.

A tidy workplace is a much safer environment when tools and other equipment are being used. Most workplace accidents relate to trips, slips, and falls.

You should check that all roads, walkways, floors and stairs are safe to use and not blocked by large pieces of equipment or piled up stock.

Although serious accidents can occur with large or specialised machinery, many injuries happen every year when employees are using basic every day equipment such as stepladders, hand saws or mechanical screwdrivers.


Correct Maintenance of Tools and Equipment

A key part of a good health and safety strategy is to maintain tools and equipment regularly.

This helps to identify safety problems before they become a serious hazard. Only qualified people should carry out the maintenance. They should also keep records of their inspections.

It’s very important to make sure that all equipment is inspected regularly. In most cases, a daily pre check should be carried out. You can emphasise the importance to your workers through regular toolbox talks.


Toolbox Talks

Discuss examples of workplace accidents which have happened while using every day equipment. Make sure they know the importance of checking all equipment before they use it.

For example, before using a ladder they should check for broken or cracked rungs and ensure that feet are solid. They need to check that any locking devices on stepladders are working properly. Staff should always be advised to use any recommended safety equipment at heights, such as a harness.

Other equipment such as machinery should be visually checked. Employees must also know who is responsible for checking that any safety guards or switches are in good working order and that any moving parts, waste collectors and other gadgets have been oiled regularly.

If machinery has an exhaust system, this needs to be inspected on a regular basis.


Safety Equipment

Research by the Health and Safety Executive has shown that experience is no substitute for safety guards or equipment.

It takes only a split second of concentration loss to lose a finger in cutting equipment. After an accident, it’s often discovered that workers have disabled safety features to make a machine easier to use. It is easy to be complacent about small equipment such as wood saws or mechanical screwdrivers. However, they are capable of causing serious injury if not well maintained or used correctly.

Employers should make a list of all equipment in use and decide how and when it should be checked. They should also decide who will note that an inspection has been done. In the event of an accident, this will at least show that dangers have been taken seriously and that procedures are in place to keep employees safe.


Safety Law on Tools and Maintenance

These requirements appear in work equipment law.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) gives procedures on a range of topics. Employers must assess the suitability of tools and equipment for given tasks; they must operate a maintenance scheme and training programme; and they must ensure they keep equipment secure and safe.

PUWER also has specific rules about the safe use and maintenance of mobile equipment and power presses.

The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) apply to equipment that lifts objects and people. Employers must meet all the use and maintenance rules that LOLER contains.


Management of Risk

There is one important way to follow the rules and to manage the safe use and maintenance of tools and equipment. This is to assess and control the risks.

Employers should conduct Risk Assessments that cover the setting up, use and maintenance of tools and equipment at work. The risk assessment process must identify the environments in which workers will use the tools and equipment; any local conditions that may affect safety; and how the workers will actually use each item in practice.

Risk assessments such as these let employers know what training they need to run. The assessments also show what information employers must make available in the form of posters, user guides and Safety Signs.


Examples of How to Reduce Risk & Use Tools Safely

By limiting risks, employers have some control over potential hazards. Specifically, employers should:

  • Place guards on machinery to protect fingers and limbs.
  • ensure that system controls have appropriate warning devices.
  • insist staff wear personal protective clothing as necessary.
  • arrange for maintenance when equipment is safely shut down and not in use.

Measures such as these keep the issue of safe use and maintenance to the front of everyone’s minds. After all, employees also have a duty to handle tools and equipment safely. They should also stop using any item immediately if it requires maintenance or repair.


Protective Equipment

Lots of every day equipment has the potential to cause injury. That means workers operating it should be given personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce the chances of harm.

PPE equipment can vary from something as simple as clothing which provides protection against the weather to safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, safety boots, ear protectors or safety harnesses.

If PPE is needed for a job, it must be provided by the employer, and they cannot charge employees for it.


PPE Maintenance Checks

It is important that employers provide the required PPE and ensure that it is fit for purpose. Check gloves for holes or damage, ensure that headphones are not broken and follow guidelines for checking harnesses.

Employees also have a responsibility towards their own safety. They can refuse to undertake any job which they consider unsafe. As an employee you can reduce the risk of accidents by reporting any faulty equipment or machinery as soon as possible. Make sure equipment that you are using is in good condition and well looked after. It should always be cleaned well and correctly stored after use.

If you believe that your employer is not taking safety seriously, you have a few options:-

  • Talk to your employer/manager and make them aware of any issues
  • Let your union or safety representative know of any problems

If your employer does not take action over any issue, you can report it to HSE or to your local authority through the environmental health department. However, it is best if you first give your employer the opportunity to put things right.

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