Over the years, I have had numerous questions put to me, many of which boil down to the same issue – “What is wrong with me using my own (miscellaneous piece of equipment) at work?” often followed by the old chestnut “It’s health and safety gone mad!”
The equipment in question can range from an employee’s own radio to mains power tools. The employee assumes they are helping but in reality all they are doing is introducing new risks to the business – risks that have not been properly assessed.
When an employer purchases equipment to be used in the workplace, they should have detailed records of it, showing that it has been built to a specific British Standard, CE approved and designed for the task. The employer may have regular testing carried out and this should be documented as well.
Let’s take a look at a typical example:
An employee is working on site and finds that they need a particular size of drill bit. The company-supplied drill can’t take that bit so they bring their own power drill in from home as they know this will do the job.
Bearing in mind what we’ve already said about the need for documentation, standards and testing, the problem is immediately visible – how does the employer know that the drill just brought onto site hasn’t been bought second-hand? Where’s the maintenance history? Is there a hidden defect that could electrocute its operator once it’s been switched on?
You can see that what seemed like a simple case of an employee wanting to get a job done quickly has ramifications that could be, in a worst-case scenario, fatal.
Let’s take things a little further and imagine that nobody stopped the employee from bringing his own power drill from home for what he thought would be a five-minute job.
Because of a defect that nobody was aware of, there’s an electrocution accident and the employee is killed.
Under the law (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 or RIDDOR), his employer MUST report the incident immediately. The act of reporting will start an investigation.
The investigation would be carried out by both the police and the HSE and the area where the incident took place would, in all likelihood, be cordoned off while this took place. This could, depending on the area, mean that all work would have to be stopped, leading to lost production/work time, business disruption and associated low morale within the workforce.
So what would the HSE want to see? One of the first documents they would ask for would be the risk assessments relating to the task on which the worker had been employed and the equipment he had been using. The problem with our scenario is that the drill in question had not been assessed. That’s an instant breach of the company’s duty under Section 3 of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
3.—(1) Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of —
(a) the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and
(b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking.
The HSE have now discovered a material breach. This will result in the company being prosecuted and the HSE will be charging £124 per hour while working on this case, under the Fees For Intervention scheme (FFI). If a fine is imposed as a result of the breach, the FFI will be payable as well.
It gets worse because it may well be that in the course of their investigation, the HSE discover further H&S breaches and include these in the prosecution.
As if this was not bad enough, the beleaguered employer will discover that as of 1st February 2016, new sentencing guidelines have been in force for health and safety breaches. These guidelines will dramatically increase the fines that become payable for breaches and woe betide the employer who is charged with Corporate Manslaughter – fines are expected to run into millions. That’s not including the possibility of a prison sentence for individuals within the organisation.
And all because an employee was allowed to use their own equipment in the workplace!
A clear policy stating `only equipment provided or approved by the company can be used on site or in connection with the business’
Communication – explain the reason for this to the employees e.g. the company would be liable for any faulty equipment and could be prosecuted. By using equipment ‘controlled’ by the company, the risk can be reduced
The employer should listen to the employee’s request and offer suitable alternatives following a suitable risk assessment
Monitor to ensure only approved equipment is used on the premises.