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Why businesses should prioritise engineering inspection and maintenance

Posted: 23 September 2021

Any company which owns plant and machinery has both a legal and moral duty to keep it in suitable condition for its ongoing use.

Engineering inspection is specifically undertaken to identify any faults and defects in machinery before they present an unacceptable risk. It must be carried out by a ‘competent person’ – that is someone who possesses the relevant practical and theoretical knowledge, plus requisite training and qualifications to do so. If the inspection reveals a serious defect, the user/owner may be required to take the equipment out of action until it has been fixed.

Maintenance is remedial or preventive action taken to correct any problems (which may have been identified during an inspection) in order to ensure that the machinery is in safe and full working order. This is usually and best undertaken by someone other than the individual who carries out inspection duties. Any engineer surveyor carrying out inspection activities does so on an entirely objective and impartial basis; having someone else undertake the maintenance avoids any conflict of interest when it comes to the cost of fixing and restoring equipment.

First and foremost, it’s needed in order to keep both the workforce and public safe from injury. The UK’s national regulator for workplace health and safety, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), warns that “people can be struck and injured by moving parts of machinery or ejected material’1  adding that ‘parts of the body can also be drawn in or trapped between rollers, belts and pulley drives.’ In January 2019, a worker for an agricultural machines manufacturer suffered life threatening injuries after becoming entangled on a rotating lathe. Following an investigation by the HSE, the company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) 1974 and was fined £60,000.2
Malfunctioning machinery can also result in a business interruption event for any company which relies on equipment for running its operations. This applies to a wide variety of circumstances, such as a café which can’t use its coffee machine, or an automobile factory without a working power press. Business interruption may not only be financially harmful but can also lead to a damaged reputation and/ or loss of customers.
There may also be a financial impact with respect to penalties. Where an employer is found to be negligent in carrying out suitable inspection and maintenance activities, it can find itself subject to prosecution and substantial fines. According to the Health and Safety Sentencing Guidelines published in 2016, employer negligence could translate to a penalty of up to £10 million for a company with a turnover in excess of £50 million.3
metal cog

Malfunctioning machinery can result in a business interruption event, such as a café which can’t use its coffee machine or an automobile factory without a working power press.

Engineer surveyors are trained to spot many signs that machinery and equipment has developed a defect, or is not functioning as expected. Generally an engineer surveyor will specialise in one particular discipline, such as pressure mechanical equipment or lifting equipment. Defects obviously vary greatly depending on the type of machinery or plant. It could be a worn sheave (type of pulley) in a lift, or a loose component in an escalator. In 2019, Allianz Engineering, Construction & Power revealed inspections data showing that 16% of inspected escalators and moving walkways had a potentially life-threatening defect.4 Once a fault is identified, an engineer surveyor will hand over to a maintenance provider to fix it.
As you might expect, different regulations are applicable for different types of equipment. This means that there’s no consistent rule for how often machinery must be inspected. The following provides an overview of some of the key regulations:

The regulations for lifting equipment such as cranes and forklift trucks, plus ancillary equipment are known as the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (1998) – or LOLER for short. LOLER specifies that lifting equipment must be inspected every 6 or twelve months, depending on type. However people-carrying plant such as passenger lifts and access platforms must be inspected every six months.

Escalators and moving walks do not fall under LOLER but guidelines prepared by the Safety Assessment Federation recommend inspections at six-monthly intervals.

Pressure systems include steam boilers, ovens and commercial coffee machines and these are covered by the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations (PSSR) 2000. The frequency for inspections of these items is determined following a risk assessment; however the HSE warns of related hazards including impact from the blast of an explosion and/or fire resulting from the escape of flammable liquids or gas.
Best described as machine tools which change the shape of a metal through the application of pressure, these are amongst the most dangerous pieces of apparatus used in industry. The regulations governing their safe use are the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) which determine that most power presses must be fully inspected every six months. Constant demand placed on the guarding mechanism in this type of equipment can result in wear and tear, leading to hand and finger fractures or even amputations.
Naturally both legislation and regulation are subject to change at any time, so it’s imperative for business owners to remain up to date with their obligations under all inspection and maintenance requirements.
elevator engineers

As mentioned, the life of an engineer surveyor is extremely varied and may see them inspecting a range of different equipment in the course of their daily duties. The role can also be physically demanding, possibly with the requirement to work at height, in confined spaces and occasionally with exposure to noise and dust.

Inspection naturally forms the main part of their role but engineer surveyors also prepare and submit examination reports to the relevant enforcing authority, plus assist customers in complying with essential health and safety workplace legislation.

Engineering inspection remains as crucial as ever but is evolving in line with advances in technology plus the drive to meet renewable energy targets. Whereas engineer surveyors once had to rely on pen and paper, increasingly handheld electronic devices are used. These offer the advantage of allowing the surveyor to complete a report in real-time, often with supporting photos. Further, most devices are equipped with GPS and lone-worker tracking meaning that an engineer can quickly and easily request help should they get into difficulty.

Drones are being used for inspections at height, such as for wind turbines, or in areas not easily accessible. They are able to capture high resolution images which the engineer can then use to make a detailed assessment.

Virtual reality (VR) headsets are finding a new application in the engineering world, allowing for the simulation of scenarios in order to train engineer surveyors safely in a controlled environment. These VR headsets offer such a realistic experience that the brain is tricked into thinking it’s a genuine situation.

Inspection and maintenance work in tandem to keep equipment and machinery safe and it’s important for business owners to familiarise themselves with those regulations with which they are legally obligated to comply. Aside from the potential for injury, not keeping up to date with the regulations could result in equipment being taken out of use, thereby compromising operations. Furthermore, insurance can be invalidated where a business fails to adhere to health and safety regulations and breaches the HSWA.

Companies can and should speak to their broker and insurer about their engineering inspection needs to ensure that they are fulfilling their contractual obligations and keeping the workplace safe and open for business.

For more information, visit Allianz Inspection Services.