Safety first in business13 November 2014
John Williams, operations manager at Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) explains that help is at hand for businesses wanting to ensure that their health and safety standards meet changing legislation
Whilst there is much debate over the impact of health and safety legislation on the competitiveness of UK plc, as far as overhead lifting is concerned, employers generally benefit from a sensible and practical regulatory framework.
This is reflected in the fact that the Coalition Government's wide ranging review of health and safety legislation has left LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations) and PUWER (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations) unchanged. The positive view of LOLER is further emphasised by the everincreasing number of companies working in other parts of the world that are voluntarily adopting it as 'best practice'.
However, despite the fact that LOLER is widely seen as a success, it is equally true that some employers still struggle with compliance. As a result, they put themselves at risk of prosecution - and their employees at risk of injury. Indeed, overhead lifting remains one of the most significant causes of workplace accidents. Fortunately, for those employers that take their obligations seriously and want to stay on the right side of the law, a wide range of detailed and practical guidance is readily available.
Introduced in 1998, LOLER marked the end of a period of transition in the UK from old national legislation to a framework based around European directives. Significantly, LOLER replaced a patchwork of rules and regulations for different industry sectors with a single piece of legislation that applies to all lifting operations.
In addition, it adopts a flexible, risk-based approach that correctly places the emphasis on the 'human factor', and is not unduly prescriptive. For example, LOLER demands that lifting operations are properly planned, supervised and performed by competent people - but leaves it to the employer to determine precisely how this is done.
The flexibility of LOLER is one of its strengths. By giving employers the freedom to focus on controlling the risks rather than following a set method, outcomes are improved and costs minimised.
However, the absence of a prescriptive approach can present challenges too. Particularly when faced with lifts that pose abnormal risks, perhaps in the shape of an unusual load or harsh environmental conditions, employers can sometimes find the absence of a clearly defined, step-bystep approach somewhat daunting.
The good news is that, above and beyond the regulations themselves, detailed guidance is available to help employers identify the practical measures needed to meet their legal obligations. Top of this list is the Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) that accompanies LOLER. An ACoP is significant because it has a special legal status: following the advice in the code will normally mean that enough is being done to comply with the law.
Alternative methods can be used, but in the event of a prosecution for a breach of health and safety law, the responsibility would be on the employer to demonstrate to the court that they had complied with the law in some other way. The ACoP for LOLER is available to download free of charge from the HSE website (www.hse. gov.uk)
Since the early 1980's, LEEA has also produced its own Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Lifting Equipment (COPSULE).
Now in its eighth edition, COPSULE is written by independent industry experts and is widely regarded as the leading reference document for the selection, operation and maintenance of overhead lifting equipment. Addressing common causes of lifting-related accidents, COPSULE supports safer working practices and provides practical guidance to help staff comply fully with relevant health and safety legislation.
Alongside COPSULE, LEEA also publishes a User's Pocket Guide. As the name suggests, this is designed as a handy reference tool for workers responsible for carrying out lifting operations, offering at-a-glance information on key issues such as legal compliance, planning lifts, and selecting, using and inspecting equipment.
Reflecting the particular challenges of lifting in offshore environments, some useful guidance has been published specifically for companies working in this sector.
For example, in addition to the ACoP for LOLER, the HSE has also produced Technical Guidance on the Safe Use of Lifting Equipment Offshore (HSG221). Furthermore, several years ago, the HSE Offshore Division responded to a series of incidents and injuries by taking concerted action to improve standards. As part of this initiative, LEEA was asked to produce a code of practice designed to help companies manage the risks of using hand chain blocks and lever hoists in the offshore sector.
The resulting document offers useful guidance for those employing these products in offshore applications. Other bodies involved in this particular HSE project included the International Marine Contractors Association (www.imca-int.com).
Its guidance document (IMCA SEL 019) was further updated in 2009. From time to time, investigation of lifting-related accidents can throw the spotlight on companies that seem to have an almost wilful disregard for the health and safety of their employees and indeed the general public. However, these represent the exception rather than the rule. The overwhelming majority of UK employers are undoubtedly committed to safe and legal working practices