The guidance follows lobbying from industry groups concerned that it may not be easy or possible to get safety testing certificates renewed while the country is still in partial lockdown.
For cranes and powered access platforms, for example, a Lifting Operations & Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) inspection must be carried out at specified intervals by a recognised inspector to check equipment is safe for use. Similar certificates are required for other plant equipment, and the latest guidance issued by the HSE also covers these.
Among organisations pressing for clarity were the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), Hire Association of Europe (HAE) and Build UK
The HSE reiterates the importance of maintaining thorough examination and testing of equipment within the required time period, and outlines new recommendations for maintaining safe access or movement of equipment to comply with this requirement.
If the requirements cannot be met, the HSE will adopt “a pragmatic and proportionate approach” for equipment used beyond its specified time period, as long as the reasons for being unable to comply are coronavirus-related or the resulting backlog in testing. “The enforcement response in these circumstances will normally be to take no action if the only failing is that thorough examination and testing is not carried out by the required date,” it says.
Operators are expected to mitigate any such extensions, for example via enhanced regular inspections and maintenance by qualified persons until such time as certification can be renewed.
In the absence of a valid test certificate, the HSE says: “Equipment should only be used outside its test regime if duty holders can demonstrate that it is critical for essential work and can still be operated safely. They must be able to demonstrate that they have made reasonable attempts to have thorough examination and testing carried out, obtained competent advice to produce a thorough assessment of the increased risk and taken appropriate action to manage it.”
IPAF managing director Peter Douglas said: “During lockdown and while the country seeks to restart key sections of the economy, concerns were expressed to us by our members that the UK HSE should issue clear guidance and/or a temporary exemption from the regular schedule of LOLER certification to minimise disruption and onerous movement of plant and machines.
“Our members remained committed to compliance with the HSE’s requirements, and safety is always paramount, but felt that due to the exceptional circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak a safe compromise or update to the regulations should be found.
“Members are worried that service, inspection and certification providers may be closed or working to reduced capacity. They point out that moving equipment long distances to find a suitable location for a qualified engineer to carry out thorough examination and testing might cause machine shortages to carry out work at height and this in turn could force standstills or lead to the wrong type of equipment being used, jeopardising safety.
“Furthermore, a shortage of inspectors available or willing to enter a premises owing to concerns about Covid-19 might also hamper efforts to maintain thorough examination and testing within required time limits, and at very least could lead to a backlog of tests needing to be carried out.
“After several weeks of discussions with the UK government, Build UK & the HSE, IPAF and our fellow trade organisations have succeeded in expressing the collective concerns of our members, and that new guidance has now been issued that should ensure safety through enhanced on-site inspections during the hopefully temporary period as the UK transitions out of lockdown and the country gets back to work.”
The new HSE guidance Thorough examination and testing of equipment during the coronavirus outbreak: Your legal obligations is available via hse.gov.uk