by Richard Short, Sales Director, Penny Hydraulics Limited
Most companies are aware of the health and safety regulations that require all items of lifting equipment be inspected regularly. The regulations are a legal requirement and cover all types of lifting equipment, broadly defined as any device used to handle loads in a workplace. This can include, but is certainly not limited to, cranes and tail lifts installed on commercial vehicles as well as similar equipment used in other mobile and static applications. Goods lifts and hoists are included.
The more stringent regulations have been brought in because accidents related to lifting continue to represent one of the biggest causes of deaths, injuries and time off work in the workplace. Official HSE figures show a small but steady decline in these accidents in recent years but there is still much to do. Imposing a more rigorous regime of testing and inspection on lifting and load handling equipment is designed to reduce the risk of mechanical failures that no doubt contribute significantly to workplace accidents.
But this is about more than simply complying with the requirements of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) and Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER). Businesses that take health and safety seriously are also more aware of their corporate social responsibilities and duty of care obligations. They understand the need to provide employees with equipment that is properly maintained and fit-for-purpose. Even without the regulatory pressure there are sound financial reasons to ensure equipment is reliable and well-maintained. Minor problems are sorted out before they lead to something more serious and unscheduled outages are less likely. The consequential costs of accidents and injuries caused by faulty or defective lifting equipment can have obvious and even more severe implications for the business.
Good safety and best practice starts with specifying the right load handling equipment and making sure it is installed to the manufacturer’s recommendations. The equipment and vehicle manufacturers will normally work together, or with an approved body builder, to ensure this happens. Incorrect installation can be dangerous and make the vehicle and the load handling equipment unsafe.
LOLER proscribes the testing and inspection regime that must be adopted. The main legal requirement is that all equipment should be subjected to what is known as a regular Statutory Thorough Examination (STE). This is similar to an MOT and is designed to ensure that the structural components and mechanical operation of the equipment meet acceptable standards. All equipment must be thoroughly examined before first use. After that the frequency of an STE varies for different devices but all must be thoroughly examined at least once a year. Lifting accessories (slings, chains, grabs, buckets etc) and equipment designed to carry people must be thoroughly examined every six months. Equipment should also have an STE following the repair or replacement of a structural component, when a change of chassis takes place and when the device is removed and refitted to the original chassis. BS7121 Part 2 complements the LOLER recommendations and goes further in some respects, for example by stipulating additional full tests four and eight years after first use and an annual "load plus 10 per cent" test.
Thorough examinations must be carried out by someone who is competent and impartial, although this can include an employee, the original equipment manufacturer or an independent service engineer as long as they have the relevant accreditation. The examiner will have appropriate practical and theoretical knowledge as well as experience of the lifting equipment being examined. They should be able to recognise potential defects that might be a safety risk to people if the equipment remains in use. Load testing is no longer required during every STE although it may be a sensible precaution to include this as routine. A competent tester will always consider whether a load test is necessary after they have inspected the equipment and this would then be carried out to complement the STE.
Choosing a competent person to carry out the STE can sometimes be a problem for larger as well as smaller companies. Original equipment manufacturers and their service organisations are likely to offer this as part of their overall service. Those who supply CE marked equipment will also meet the recommended standards in terms of design and construction. Even better, look for organisations that belong to relevant industry bodies (such as ALLMI or the SMMT for commercial vehicles) because these will probably have a better understanding of the market and work to official codes of practice designed to promote better safety and best practice.
One significant area where the current legislation differs from its predecessors is in the way attachments are treated. In general terms, and there are a few exceptions, an attachment such as a hook or grab is now considered part of the lifting equipment even if it can be easily removed. Similarly, the mounting or fixing points are also considered part of the equipment and should be covered by any inspection.
Of course, any STE can only check the condition of the equipment on the day of the test. Although the STE is a legal requirement any responsible owner or operator of lifting equipment will want to carry out basic checks more frequently, for their own peace of mind and to instil a safety-first culture among their employees. The objective should be to maintain the equipment so it is always safe to use. Following the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions is an absolute minimum requirement.
Daily checks need not be onerous and can often be completed in a couple of minutes. With hydraulic cranes, for example, this might include looking for oil leaks, damage to steel sections or frays on wire ropes. Although potentially serious in themselves they might indicate a bigger underlying problem. There are other maintenance tasks that should be part of a regular routine. These can include, for example, checking the level of hydraulic reservoirs and topping up as necessary, lubricating components in line with manufacturers’ recommendations and giving equipment a general clean or simple wipe over from time to time. It is surprising how many companies continue to ignore even the most basic tasks.
Load handling equipment operators are also responsible for ensuring proper records are kept for a minimum of two years about a device’s test, inspection and maintenance history. This does not necessarily mean they must keep this information themselves because the records can be held by a third party, such as an inspection agent or service provider, as long as they can be accessed whenever required. The best service providers will offer this facility as part of their overall contract. The penalties for non-compliance can be severe. Companies that do not complete their STE and maintain records properly can be subjected to enforcement action or fined in a court of law.
Penny Hydraulics (www.pennyhydraulics.com) designs, manufactures and services lifting and load handling equipment for use in a wide range of applications. Products include the Swing Lift range of medium duty cranes for use on pick-ups, drop-sides and flat-beds and the Step Lift, Load Lift and Tail Lift lifting platform ranges for use on pick-ups, drop-sides and vans. The company also manufactures the Mezz Lift for handling loads between ground floor and mezzanines and specialist equipment for handling wheels, tyres and barrels in vehicles and at customers’ premises. Penny Hydraulics is a privately owned family business based in Clowne, Derbyshire.