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The Dreaded LOLER Inspector

Inspection of PPE for working at height

For many company owners and managers involved in employing people who work at height, the words ‘LOLER inspector’ can sometimes cause dread.

Employers are responsible for providing and maintaining personal protective equipment under the PUWER regulations. Complying with Heath and Safety regulations can be a complex and costly exercise at the best of times.

Sometimes LOLER inspections are considered to be more of an expensive nuisance than a practical and beneficial exercise in managing and maintaining the personal protective equipment provided for employees.

Various reasons for this viewpoint will be discussed in this article, along with suggestions for ways to use the inspection in a constructive manner, as part of your company equipment management schedule.

In the UK, under the Health and Safety Executive regulations, ‘The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations, 1998’ covers all aspects of lifting and lowering equipment including PPE for working at height.

These regulations have been in force for more than 12 years now. This article focuses on Regulation 9, regarding the thorough inspection of PPE for working at height.

Currently the maximum time period between documented thorough inspections is six months for PPE and 12 months for lowering and lifting equipment. However, this can be a shorter time period if the type or frequency of use or environment demands it. For example, textile lanyards can wear rapidly under constant day to day use. To avoid down time items such as this should be kept in stock as they may require replacing on a frequent basis.?

The thorough inspection can be likened to the MOT for a vehicle in the UK. The fact that the equipment has passed the thorough inspection does not necessarily mean it is safe to use for the next six months. All equipment should be checked prior to use and after use (given the ‘rattle test’) and the company procedures backed up with documented training should clearly state this.

Exemptions are the armed forces and recreational users not employed or working for a living. For example the equipment used by instructors who are employed on a high ropes course is covered by the LOLER regulations, whereas the equipment used by students is not. However, the equipment used by students should be indentified under the risk assessment as requiring regular documented inspection due to the high wear factor associated with this type of use.

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Why is the thorough inspection important?

The documented, thorough inspection is important for several reasons:

  • To comply with UK health and safety law
  • To comply with insurance requirements - in the event of an accident your insurance company may ask to see the thorough inspection records along with other relevant documents such as risk assessments
  • To comply with contractual obligation - paperwork is often required to be provided prior to permission being given to work on site
  • As a moral duty to your workers
  • To assess deterioration of PPE and to plan equipment replacements, e.g. textile products can wear rapidly. An assessment of likely replacement dates should be made to indicate future equipment requirements

The inspection is also the time to carry out any preventative maintenance required. Cleaning and lubrication of PPE and lifting and lowering equipment is essential to make sure all items inspected are fit for use. Possibly this may only involve cleaning the identity label or marking to ensure that the correct piece of equipment is being inspected.

More complex items such as fall arrest blocks may need an internal inspection by a qualified engineer. For large volumes of equipment some companies invest in an ultrasonic cleaning bath which can be very effective in cleaning the barrels of automatically locking karabiners.

Finally lubricate with silicon, PTFE or even graphite compound - whichever is best for you and the type of contamination, industry or environment the equipment is used in.

Any defective item should be withdrawn from use and clearly labelled as not fit for use and quarantined so as it cannot be used. If the equipment cannot be repaired it must be scrapped as soon as practical so it cannot be used for the intended purpose.

The competent person should be able to make an assessment as to whether it is economic to repair defective equipment or replace it. Any major repair or refurbishment is best dealt with by the manufacturers.

Occasionally in house repair is an option but the person doing the repair must be trained and experienced in doing the work.

For example the latches on the hooks of a winch are easily damaged and if not closing correctly they will fail the thorough inspection. Replacement latches are available and are not rocket science to fit, but you should always use original parts from the manufacturer.

Equipment that has been repaired must have a recorded thorough inspection by a competent person prior to being put back into service.

Paperwork and record keeping

When new equipment is delivered, file all accompanying paperwork such as the CE certificate of conformity, batch test certificate and user instructions. CE certificates are often available from the manufacture’s web site.

The LOLER inspector may ask to see these records. With the advent of modern technology it is more common to have electronic versions of all relevant paperwork. If this is done the equipment register and report can be emailed to any authorities that require it to avoid any delay. Some companies now have a web based system which allows you to access your equipment records online.

Before any PPE can be issued for work it needs to have a formal inspection by a competent person and should be entered on the? equipment register. The CE certificate can be used as a certificate of inspection if required. The equipment register should contain all the relevant details such as serial number, batch number, type, make, model, inspection dates and date of first use for that piece of equipment.

Each piece of kit needs to be permanently identified with a unique serial number. Nowadays this is normally done during manufacture but if not, the equipment needs to be permanently marked without causing damage or affecting the function.

Now is the time to stipulate a minimum period for a thorough inspection. Under LOLER 1998 the period for PPE is six months, and 12 months for lowering and lifting equipment. However, you may need to make more frequent thorough inspections if you have found from experience that the equipment requires it.

Once the equipment has had a thorough inspection and has been entered on the equipment register it can be issued for use.

Preparing for the thorough inspection

Before the thorough inspection of PPE it is essential that all staff are given prior notice of the inspection date. Equipment requiring inspection can often be spread around several different locations or vehicles and it all needs to identified and taken to the inspection location. If the equipment is not presented for inspection there is a risk of a defective piece of equipment staying in use. To avoid down time the inspection can be done during the vacation or at the weekend. Alternatively, if sufficient spare equipment (already inspected) is available it can be issued during the inspection period.

Thorough inspection of PPE can be a time consuming business, especially if the equipment is poorly maintained and requires cleaning and lubrication. Make sure that you allow sufficient time for the inspection period.

What exactly is a competent person?

The regulations state that the competent person must be:

“The individual nominated by the employer to carry out thorough examinations on the basis of his or her level of knowledge of the equipment, defects and their causes, methods of testing and fault diagnosis. The person must be independent from the employer’s line management. The competent person can be in-house or from an external organisation such as an insurance company.”

Larger organisations often employ a competent person to inspect equipment in-house as long as no commercial constraints exist. The competent person is frequently a trained end user who works full time for the company. This is acceptable as long as they maintain independence from the employer’s line management.

Alternatively, the inspector may be sent by the insurance company as part of the service they provide. Smaller organisations may employ an external competent person - this has the advantage of no training costs and ensures impartiality.

It has been known for the LOLER inspector to arrive and to condemn what many people will consider to be serviceable equipment for petty reasons.

Occasionally it may be the case that the inspector is possibly either inexperienced or overzealous when inspecting equipment. From my own experiences in manufacturing, when dealing with equipment returns it was often found that the returned equipment was certified as fit for purpose and serviceable when inspected by the manufacturers.

Often the reason for the return was that the LOLER inspector had subjected the equipment to unrealistic tests and criteria not relevant to the normal day to day use of the equipment. This is currently a contentious issue with UK companies who manufacture karabiners.

Currently DMM are producing a video to clarify the correct inspection procedure, which will be available on the web. This now raises the old question of what makes a person competent. Anyone can call themselves an expert or a competent person - they do not have to have attended any course or training. However, it would obviously not be good practice to employ someone as a competent person if they have no experience or training.

There are a variety of training courses available, ranging from a one day course with no assessment, up to the Lyon Equipment course, which is four days of training with a day of assessment at the end. Some courses are specific to a particular profession, which limits the type of equipment the inspector can inspect.

If someone has attended a ‘competent person’ course it does not necessarily make them competent. This is especially the case if the person only does infrequent inspections, or is more of the guy that will do it on ‘Friday afternoon’. If you want to deal with a person who is truly knowledgeable, they need both experience and training.

If these criteria are met, common sense will hopefully prevail in what is for many a very grey area.

Specialist trades

For some time now certain professionals have held the opinion that the only people allowed to qualify to inspect PPE must have previously trained and qualified in that particular profession - arborists, for example.

You could say this is a good idea as the regulations state that “the competent person should have sufficient knowledge and experience of using the equipment.” But just because someone is an expert in their profession it does not necessarily mean that they know how to inspect, maintain and manage PPE.

You need to make sure that a professional from one particular trade has been adequately trained to become a competent person for inspection purposes. Specific trade courses invariably do not include the relevant components regarding the thorough inspection, documentation and health and safety law relating to PPE.

The alternative approach is to employ a competent person who has specific knowledge of all PPE for working at height, regardless of the industry it is used for.

LOLER Inspector database

There have been calls to create a database of inspectors. This would be a very difficult task due to the many different trades and industries that work at height. A central body would need to be created to manage the database, and this would involve extra costs.

Equipment selection and storage

Equipment selection and purchase is a very important part of working safely at height. Equipment selection should be part of the risk assessment. Under trading standard laws, retailers in the UK can only sell PPE that has been CE certified. To be CE certified the equipment first has to be tested to the relevant British or European standard. When the equipment has passed the appropriate tests, CE approval can be applied for. If successful, the equipment can be sold in the UK marked with the CE mark and the number of the test house giving the CE approval.

Lifting and lowering equipment does not necessarily carry a CE test house number, as manufactures can self-certify in-house under the machinery directive. Arborist pulley blocks used for lowering tree limbs come in the category.

A grey area exists regarding CE approval where certain specialist trades use equipment that has been manufactured abroad, often in the USA. Such equipment can be used if no suitable alternative is available with CE approval. The competent person should have the experience to make decisions as to the suitability and fitness of any specialist equipment they are inspecting, regardless of CE mark.

Make sure that the equipment purchased and supplied to employees is appropriate for the intended use - it must fit the user well and the user must be trained how to use the equipment in the intended manner. There are many ways of misusing equipment and documented training and experience is essential to prevent this.

All equipment should be compatible within each system. Read the user instruction for any new piece of equipment if you are not familiar with it.

Manufacturers test equipment in laboratory conditions to British and European standards. Work situations do not always reflect these laboratory conditions and experience is essential for correct equipment selection. For example, the performance of rope grabs used for work positioning and fall arrest will differ depending on the type and condition of the rope used. Only use rope grabs with ropes recommended by the manufacturer, as these will be the ropes the device has been tested on and proven to work to pass the required standard.

The user must also be trained in safe rescue techniques and have a rescue plan as part of the risk assessment.

Once you have selected and purchased your equipment, the job of establishing a specified inspection scheme, registering, storing and maintenance begins. Storage of equipment is often overlooked. When not in use equipment should be stored in a clean dry environment. Heavy duty vinyl equipment bags are ideal for people on the move who keep their equipment in a vehicle. Equipment should be cleaned and dried before storing, if required.

PUWER regulation 5 states:

That work equipment be maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair, you should know: • The kinds of deterioration that can affect accessories in storage and what can be done to prevent problems arising from deterioration • When to seek advice from manufacturers and suppliers

Remember that the condition of equipment can deteriorate if not stored correctly.

The level playing field

The working at height industry has been largely self regulating with regard to the LOLER regulations. The majority of companies comply with the law and the thorough inspection will be a part of the preventative maintenance of PPE. However, there are firms who never do a thorough inspection because they are either ignorant of the law, or they hope they will not have an accident and they will get away with any Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation.

The HSE do not have the manpower to check all the people who work at height, especially the smaller companies. They tend to act as fire fighters when an incident occurs but do not have the resources to do more than this.

Companies that ignore the law are not working on a level playing field, as they can undercut on price because their overheads are not the same as a company that tows the line as far as health and safety is concerned. How long they would stay in business if they had an accident is questionable with this type of practice.

Some companies follow the regulations half-heartedly: they may have equipment inspection records but these are not complete or up to date. Alternatively, the equipment paperwork exists as an entry on an equipment register with no individual inspection schedule. Perhaps the inspector attended a one day course some years back and does the inspection once every six months in-house.

Problem that may arise with this system are:

  • If the main function of the competent person is primarily as an end user, six months can be a long time between inspections
  • The competent person may not be up to date with new legislation
  • The competent person may not be up to date with new equipment and techniques
  • Insurance companies may decide the insurance is not valid with paperwork that is not correct or complete

Does the thorough inspection stop accidents and save lives?

Yes, is probably the answer to this question, but it is debatable as to how effective the legislation is and whether it could it be more effective. Currently no specific statistics are available for equipment failure related to falls from a height.

Even if equipment failure is eliminated, accidents can still be caused by equipment misuse and bad practice (human error). To minimise the risk of falls and incidents, working at height should be managed and planned from the start of a job.

Pre-use equipment checks, training and experience are the best practices as always.

The documented thorough inspection of PPE should be part of the company equipment management schedule and risk assessment. If it is done properly by a truly competent person it should maximise the cost effectiveness of the exercise and help you to safeguard your work force. Regular inspections can help to develop the culture of safety awareness which is vital for the reduction of accidents. ?

References:

Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 ISBN 978 0 7176 2464 5

Working at Height regulations 2004

Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)

HSE Personal protective equipment at work 1992

BS EN 8437:2005 Code of practice for selection, use and maintenance of personal fall protection systems and equipment for use in the workplace

Published: 10th Apr 2011 in Health and Safety International

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