Ensure employee safety when using equipment

Employers have to adhere to regulations for equipment in the workplace, assess potential risks and take steps to avoid them.


12 min read

1. Overview

All businesses must ensure that their equipment is used and maintained correctly to reduce the risk of accidents or damage to health. Under health and safety law, employers have a duty to minimise risks to employees.

This guide introduces how to assess and reduce the risks of using workplace equipment. It includes some of the safeguards you need to put in place to prevent injury, the maintenance required and the rules that cover the disposal of equipment.

2. Safe use of machinery, equipment and tools

Employers are legally required to ensure that all equipment supplied and used for work purposes is safe and does not pose a long-term hazard or risk to employee health.

Employers are also required to ensure that those using equipment have sufficient knowledge and training to use it safely.

Work equipment - your legal duties

You must ensure work equipment is safe under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. In particular equipment must be:

  • suitable for the job it's being used for
  • maintained to keep it safe at all times
  • inspected at suitable intervals if wear and tear might compromise safety
  • inspected before first use if the equipment's safety depends on installation conditions
  • assessed for levels of noise and vibration transmitted to operators and drivers and others

You'll need to assess the risks of using the equipment as part of your overall health and safety risk assessment.

The rules also cover mobile work equipment such as dumper trucks and forklift vehicles.

Use hand-held tools safely

Anyone who uses a hand-held tool may be at risk of injury. As far as possible, use guards and provide protective clothing, eg masks, ear defenders and gloves. Organise the use of tools during work operations and their storage when not in use.

Dealing with old equipment

When dealing with old equipment, you must ensure it is safely and properly handled, stored, transported and recovered or disposed of. This is known as theduty of carefor waste.

If the equipment contains hazardous components, such as cathode ray tubes or ozone-depleting substances, you will need to follow additional requirements underhazardous wastelegislation.

If you manufacture, distribute or sellelectrical and electronic goods, you must comply with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2006.

3. Protect yourself and employees

Workers in many roles may require special personal protective equipment (PPE) at work.

Regulations for personal protective equipment (PPE)

Under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2022 employers are obliged to provide their employees with such equipment where it's necessary.

In certain circumstances, failure to comply with the PPE regulations can attract a fine or prison sentence.

In some sectors, there is separate legislation that obliges employers to provide PPE for specific situations, for example:

PPE regulations do not apply to:

  • ordinary work clothes and uniforms which do not protect the health and safety of the wearer
  • equipment used for playing competitive sports
  • portable devices for detecting and signalling risks and nuisances

Do I need PPE or different processes?

Workers must use PPE and clothing if their health and safety can't otherwise be adequately protected.

Where PPE is necessary, employers must provide it to employees free of charge. Self-employed people are also required to obtain it for themselves.

As the effectiveness of protective equipment can easily be compromised by being badly worn or used, it should be seen as a last resort. Examine whether processes can be carried out differently to minimise risk instead.

Buy the right personal protective equipment

You may need to provide protection for the:

  • head - crash, climbing or safety helmets, bump caps or hairnets. You must provide hearing protection to all workers exposed to noise levels or 85 decibels or more or between 80 and 85 if the employee requests protection
  • eyes - safety spectacles, goggles, and face shields
  • feet - safety boots or shoes (steel toe-caps), wellington boots
  • arms and hands - gloves, gauntlets, mitts, cuffs, armlets or elbow protectors
  • body - overalls, boiler suits, high visibility clothing, leggings, gaiters.

You may also need to provide respiratory protective equipment (RPE) where workers are exposed to dust and fumes.

Before purchasing equipment consider carefully what is needed and whether separate items are compatible. For example, do protective goggles make it difficult for a respirator to fit properly?

You must also ensure that all PPE meets set standards.

4. Processes for managing PPE

There are eight key areas that you should monitor to ensure you comply with personal protective equipment (PPE) regulations:

  • Assessment of need- carry out a risk assessment.
  • Compatibility- where more than one piece of PPE is worn or used the items must be compatible.
  • Maintenance- all equipment must be regularly maintained and replaced. The manufacturer's maintenance schedule, such as recommended replacement periods, should be followed.
  • Storage- all equipment should be well looked after and stored properly. For example, pegs for weatherproof clothing or a dry, clean cupboard for overalls. Smaller items like goggles should be kept in a protective case or box.
  • Use- the user should be made aware of why PPE is needed and what its limitations are. Make regular checks to ensure PPE is being worn. You should also learn and show employees how to spot signs of wear and tear in equipment.
  • Training- employers, employees and the self-employed have duties to ensure PPE is used properly and does not increase the risk of an accident.
  • Records- keep records of all PPE equipment on your premises and a schedule for when checks and replacements should be made.
  • Reporting loss or damage- employees must notify their employer if equipment is lost or damaged. Ensure they are aware of this.

In certain circumstances, failure to comply with the PPE regulations can attract a fine of up to £20,000 and a prison sentence of one year in a summary trial or an unlimited fine and/or two years in an indictment trial at a sheriff court.

Note that the sentencing option of one year applies in Scotland, but will only apply in England and Wales when Section 154 (1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is enacted.

5. Check if personal protective exemptions apply

The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulations 1992 do not apply to:

  • ordinary work clothes and uniforms which do not protect the health and safety of the wearer
  • equipment used for playing competitive sports
  • portable devices for detecting and signalling risks and nuisances

The PPE regulations also do not apply where separate legislation already obliges employers to provide personal protective equipment. These are the:

  • Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989
  • Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005
  • Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002
  • Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002
  • Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999

6. Ensure employees are operating computers safely

Under health and safety law, you must ensure that computer screens or monitors, keyboards, non-keyboard input devices, furniture and the working environment meet certain minimum requirements and are easy to adjust to the individual's needs.

Using laptops safely

Some of the design features on laptops and other portable computers can make them uncomfortable to use for long periods. Employees shouldn't routinely use laptops where full-sized equipment is available or should be provided with a laptop docking station so that they can work with a full-sized keyboard and screen.

You must provide training for employees using portable display screen equipment (DSE).

Minimising security risks

If you work from home or out of an office environment - remote working - you should take effective security measures to protect both equipment and information, such as:

  • regularly back up files and keeping backups safe and secure
  • keeping equipment and software up to date, including anti-virus protection
  • maintaining information security to minimise the risk of theft

Workstation furniture and users' posture

The work desk or work surface should:

  • be big enough to allow the user to arrange the screen, keyboard, documents, etc in a flexible way
  • have a matt surface
  • be big enough to let the user work comfortably and to change position
  • be stable and positioned so that it's comfortable and easy to use where an employee uses a document holder

Workstation chairs should:

  • be stable and allow the user to work comfortably
  • be adjustable in height
  • have a seatback adjustable in height and tilt

The working environment

The general conditions in the workplace also have an effect on the health and safety of DSE users.

You need to assess:

  • Noise levels- the equipment shouldn't be so noisy that it distracts the user. If you can't use quieter equipment, consider soundproofing or moving the equipment. You could use sound-insulating partitions between noisy equipment and the rest of the workstation as an alternative.
  • Lighting- surrounding windows must have curtains or blinds which users can adjust to prevent reflected glare. If needed, provide users with lighting appropriate to their tasks and particular workstation. Users should have control over their lighting to prevent reflected glare.
  • Temperature- the equipment should not give out so much heat that the user becomes uncomfortable.
  • Humidity- it's important that you maintain ventilation and humidity at a level which keeps the user comfortable.

Task design and rest breaks

You must plan the activities of computer users so that they don't work for long uninterrupted periods on DSE. You can do this through a combination of rest breaks and changes in work activity which allow users to change posture.

You also have a duty to tell employees about the importance of changing activities and taking breaks and to encourage them to do both.

Good design of the task can be as important as the right choice of furniture and equipment. Whenever possible you should:

  • design jobs so that employees have a mix of activities and some say over which tasks they perform and when
  • match staffing levels to workload so that individuals are neither overworked nor underworked
  • give employees some say in the way work is planned and carried out

An employee's need for rest breaks will vary depending on the type of work they are doing and how intensely they are working. As a general rule however:

  • Short, frequent breaks are better than longer, less frequent ones. A five to ten minute break after 50-60 minutes' DSE work is better than a 15-20 minute break after two hours.
  • The employee should have some choice over when to take breaks.
  • Employees should be encouraged to do different tasks or activities during their break, ideally away from the workstation.

Employee training

Under health and safety law, you must train your employees in the safe use of DSE.

Eyesight tests

All employees who regularly use DSE have the right to ask you to pay foreye and eyesight tests. This will be carried out by an optometrist or doctor and it's your duty to pay the fee. DSE users have the right to regular tests thereafter.

Employers only have to pay forglassesif special ones are needed for DSE work and the employee can't use normal glasses.

7. Prevent RSI and upper limb disorders

There are more than 20 different conditions which can be described as upper limb disorders (ULDs), or repetitive strain injury (RSI). ULDs can affect the neck, shoulders and arms - including hands, wrists, fingers and elbows.

Review your processes to minimise upper limb disorders

The only way to fully eliminate the risk of upper limb disorders (ULDs) is to avoid using processes or equipment that might pose a risk. However, on a practical level, you may not be able to mechanise high-risk tasks, or protect employees from exposure to risk altogether. Risky tasks may be a crucial part of your core activities.

However, you can use your health and safety risk assessment to identify high-risk tasks and minimise their impact on your employees.

Checklist: avoiding upper limb disorders

You have a legal duty to protect the health and safety of you and your employees. This includes taking steps to prevent upper limb disorders (ULDs) or to prevent them worsening if they've already occurred. Make sure you:

  • carry out a risk assessment - look at all the tasks your business carries out and see if any might cause ULDs
  • inform your employees - make sure they know the risks and how to minimise them, eg by taking regular rest breaks, having the correct posture and sharing high-risk tasks
  • tell employees to look out for the symptoms of ULDs, eg pain, numbness and tingling
  • eradicate risks if possible - perhaps by using machines for high-risk activities
  • reduce risks where possible - perhaps by changing your processes or using less harmful equipment
  • provide any training your staff need to minimise the risk of ULDs occurring
  • consult with your staff - their feedback is an important source of information
  • put systems in place for managing any ULDs that do occur

Keep monitoring working conditions - review your risk assessment regularly.

8. Work safely at height or in a confined space

Businesses whose operations involve working above or below the ground or in confined spaces must comply with rules designed to minimise the risks of injury.

Assess the risks of working at height

You must consider the specific risks posed by working at height as part of your overall health and safety risk assessment.

Plan work carried out at height

You need to take steps to reduce the risks of all falls liable to cause personal injury to anyone on your premises or site, eg employees, visitors and contractors.

Make sure roofs, working platforms and walkways are safe

Accidents don't just happen to those building roofs, but also to people maintaining, cleaning, demolishing and inspecting them. Remember, working on a roof can be dangerous. Any fall from a roof inevitably involves at least serious injury.

Your risk assessment should help you choose the most suitable type of equipment to use.

You need to ensure that all equipment is well maintained and checked regularly. All equipment should be removed from the platform at the end of the working day, and any power supplies should be switched off.

What is a confined space?

A confined space has two defining features:

  • it is a place that is substantially (though not always entirely) enclosed
  • there will be a reasonably foreseeable risk of serious injury from hazardous substances or conditions within the space or nearby

You must ensure that any work carried out in a confined space, where there is a reasonably foreseeable risk of serious injury, complies with the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997.

9. Risk assessments

There are many hazards involved in a workplace. In order to assess and mange any potential risks you should carry out a risk assessment. For example:

  • Risks caused by workplace equipment - cutting equipment, forklift trucks, equipment using heat or bright light. Your risk assessment needs to assess the likelihood of such hazards occurring. Look at risks which occur not just during the normal operation of the equipment but also during installation, maintenance, repairs, breakdowns and servicing.
  • Risks requiring the use of personal protective equipment.
  • Risks from computer workstations - physical layout, job being done, posture, rest breaks etc. An assessment must be carried out by law on these and the employees who use them - including homeworkers.
  • Risks likely to cause upper limb disorders (ULDs).
  • Risks when working at height - falls from height, falling objects.
  • Risks of confined spaces - under the Confined spaces Regulations, you must carry out a risk assessment; assess the level of risk posed and decide whether you need to take steps to manage these risks, including putting emergency arrangements in place.

When you identify a problem, you must take steps to minimise the risk to employees. For example:

  • ensure the correct equipment is used for the job
  • provide personal protective equipment for employees
  • plan any work to minimise risks identified
  • use appropriate warning signs
  • provide appropriate training and guidelines to employees
  • maintain and check equipment regularly

If you have further questions about employee safety regulations, call us on 0300 013 4753.

10. Further information

Read our introduction to health and safety for employers and the basics of occupational health.

Healthy Working Lives provides more support and workplace guidance for employers in Scotland.

If you have further questions about employee safety regulations, call us on 0300 013 4753.

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