Machinery, plant and equipment

This section covers the different safety aspects of using machinery and maintaining plant and equipment in the workplace. Employers should consider how their workers use machinery, and have adequate maintenance arrangements in place to ensure it remains safe to use.

There is also specific advice on lifting equipment and carrying out vehicle repairs.

Case study
A company were prosecuted after a worker was killed when he was crushed in the rollers of a rubber and cloth inspection machine.

Other workers heard him cry out and he was found with his left arm, shoulder, head and torso trapped between the rubberised blanket and the roller. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

What caused the accident?

The company had not assessed the risks associated with using the machine. They had not checked that it was safe to use following modifications when the nip guards were removed and an unguarded roller was inserted.

Why is machinery safety important?

Moving machinery can cause injuries in many ways:
  • People can be struck and injured by moving parts of machinery or ejected material. Parts of the body can also be drawn in or trapped between rollers, belts and pulley drives.
  • Sharp edges can cause cuts and severing injuries, sharp-pointed parts can cause stabbing or puncture the skin, and rough surface parts can cause friction or abrasion.
  • People can be crushed, both between parts moving together or towards a fixed part of the machine, wall or other object, and two parts moving past one another can cause shearing.
  • Parts of the machine, materials and emissions (such as steam or water) can be hot or cold enough to cause burns or scalds, and electricity can cause electrical shock and burns.
  • Injuries can also occur due to machinery becoming unreliable and developing faults or when machines are used improperly through inexperience or lack of training.

What should employers do?

Before they start

Before they start using any machine they need to think about what risks may occur and how these can be managed. They should therefore do the following:
  • Check that the machine is complete, with all safeguards fitted, and free from defects. The term ‘safeguarding’ includes guards, interlocks, two-hand controls, light guards, pressure-sensitive mats etc. National legislation often requires the supplier to provide the right safeguards and inform buyers of any risks (‘residual risks’) that users need to be aware of and manage because they could not be designed out.
  • Produce a safe system of work for using and maintaining the machine. Maintenance may require the inspection of critical features where deterioration would cause a risk. They should also look at the residual risks identified by the manufacturer in the information/instructions provided with the machine and make sure they are included in the safe system of work.
  • Ensure every static machine has been installed properly and is stable (usually fixed down).
  • Choose the right machine for the job and do not put machines where customers or visitors may be exposed to risk.

Make sure the machine is:

  • Safe for any work that has to be done when setting up, during normal use, when clearing blockages, when carrying out repairs for breakdowns, and during planned maintenance;
  • Properly switched off, isolated or locked off before taking any action to remove blockages, clean or adjust the machine;
Also, make sure they identify and deal with the risks from:
  •  Electrical, hydraulic or pneumatic power supplies;
  • Badly designed safeguards. These may be inconvenient to use or easily overridden, which could encourage their workers to risk injury and break the law. If this is happening employers should find out why workers are doing it and take appropriate action to deal with the reasons/causes.

Preventing access to dangerous parts

Employers should think about how they can make a machine safe. The measures they use to prevent access to dangerous parts should be in the following order. In some cases it may be necessary to use a combination of these measures:
  • Use fixed guards (e.g. secured with screws or nuts and bolts) to enclose the dangerous parts, whenever practical. Use the best material for these guards – plastic may be easy to see through but may easily be damaged. Where you use wire mesh or similar materials, make sure the holes are not large enough to allow access to moving parts.
  • If fixed guards are not practical, they should use other methods, e.g. interlock the guard so that the machine cannot start before the guard is closed and cannot be opened while the machine is still moving. In some cases, trip systems such as photoelectric devices, pressure-sensitive mats or automatic guards may be used if other guards are not practical.
  • Where guards cannot give full protection, use jigs, holders, push sticks etc. if it is practical to do so.
  • Employers should control any remaining risk by providing the worker/operator with the necessary information, instruction, training, supervision and appropriate safety equipment.

Other things employers should also consider

  • If machines are controlled by programmable electronic systems, changes to any programmes should be carried out by a competent person (someone who has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to carry out the work safely). It is good practice if employers’ keep a record of such changes and check to ensure they have been made properly.
  • Ensure control switches are clearly marked to show what they do.
  • Have emergency stop controls where necessary, e.g. mushroom-head push buttons within easy reach.
  • Make sure operating controls are designed and placed to avoid accidental operation and injury, use two-hand controls where necessary and shroud start buttons and pedals.
  • Don’t let unauthorized, unqualified or untrained people use machinery – never allow children to operate or help at machines. Some workers, e.g. new starters, young people or those with disabilities, may be particularly at risk and need instruction, training and supervision.
  • Adequate training should ensure that those who use the machine are competent to use it safely. This includes ensuring they have the correct skills, knowledge and experience – sometimes formal qualifications may be needed.
  • Supervisors must also be properly trained and competent to be effective. They may need extra specific training and there are recognized courses for supervisors.
  • Ensure the work area around the machine is kept clean and tidy, free from obstructions or slips and trips hazards, and well lit.

Dos and don’ts of machinery safety for workers


  • check the machine is well maintained and fit to be used, i.e. appropriate for the job and working properly and that all the safety measures are in place – guards, isolators, locking mechanisms, emergency off switches etc.;
  • use the machine properly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions;
  • make sure operators are wearing the appropriate protective clothing and equipment required for that machine, such as safety glasses, hearing protection and safety shoes.


  • use a machine or appliance that has a danger sign or tag attached to it. Danger signs should only be removed by an authorised person who is
  • satisfied that the machine or process is now safe;
  • wear dangling chains, loose clothing, rings or have loose, long hair that could get caught up in moving parts;
  • distract people who are using machines;
  • remove any safeguards, even if their presence seems to make the job more difficult.
Case study
A company were prosecuted after a worker received horrific injuries, almost severing his left arm when using a cross-cut saw.

What the employer did

The nose guard had not been set correctly because training was inadequate. The worker had no previous experience and had only five minutes’ training on the saw. This did not include any instruction about the saw guards and how to adjust them properly. In addition, the saw was unsuitable for training purposes.

Plant and equipment maintenance

Maintenance on plant and equipment is carried out to prevent problems arising, to put faults right, and to ensure equipment is working effectively.

Maintenance may be part of a planned programme or may have to be carried out at short notice after a breakdown. It always involves non-routine activities and can expose those involved (and others) to a range of risks.

Why is maintenance of plant and equipment important?

An effective maintenance programme will make plant and equipment more reliable. Fewer breakdowns will mean less dangerous contact with machinery is required, as well as having the cost benefits of better productivity and efficiency.

Additional hazards can occur when machinery becomes unreliable and develops faults. Maintenance allows these faults to be diagnosed early to manage any risks. However, maintenance needs to be correctly planned and carried out. Unsafe maintenance has caused many fatalities and serious injuries, either during the maintenance or to those using the badly maintained or wrongly maintained/repaired equipment.

What should employers do?

Employers who provide equipment for use, from hand tools and ladders to electrical power tools and larger plant, need to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable that the machinery and equipment under their control is safe and without risk to health. One way to achieve this is for employers to have arrangements in place to make sure machinery and equipment is maintained in a safe condition.

They should think about what hazards can occur if:
  • tools break during use;
  • machinery starts up unexpectedly;
  • there is contact with materials that are normally enclosed within the machine, i.e. caused by leaks/breakage/ejection etc.
Failing to correctly plan and communicate clear instructions and information before starting maintenance can lead to confusion and can cause accidents. This can be a particular problem if maintenance is during normal production work or where there are contractors who are unfamiliar with the site.

Case study
A worker received crush injuries to his head and neck while he was undertaking maintenance work, when the hoist he was working on started up.

What caused the accident?

The power supply to the hoist had not been isolated before work started. This was because workers had not been given adequate training or instruction on safe isolation procedures. It was also found that isolation by the interlocked gates could be bypassed.

Extra care is also required if maintenance involves:
  • working at height or when doing work that requires access to unusual parts of the building;
  • when entering vessels or confined spaces where there may be toxic materials or a lack of air.

How can employers do it?

Establishing a planned maintenance programme is a useful step towards reducing risk, as well as having a reporting procedure for workers who may notice problems while working on machinery.

Some items of plant and equipment may have safety-critical features where deterioration would cause a risk. Employers must have arrangements in place to make sure the necessary inspections take place.

But there are other steps to consider:

Before employers instruct workers to start maintenance
  • Decide if the work should be done by specialist contractors. Never take on work for which workers are not prepared or competent.
  • Plan the work carefully before it starts, ideally using the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions, and produce a safe system of work. This will avoid unforeseen delays and reduce the risks.
  • Make sure maintenance staff are competent and have appropriate clothing and equipment.
  • Try and use downtime for maintenance. This can avoid the difficulties in co-ordinating maintenance and production work if maintenance work is performed before start-up or during shutdown periods.

Safe working areas
  • Employers must provide safe access and a safe place of work.
  • They must not just focus on the safety of maintenance workers – they must take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of others who may be affected by the maintenance work, e.g. other workers or contractors working nearby.
  • Employers and the maintenance personnel should set up signs and barriers and position people at key points if they are needed to keep other people out.
Case study

Maintenance staff removed a section of grating to gain access to plant located below a walkway. A worker fell through a gap in the walkway, seriously injuring his shoulder.

What caused the accident?

The fall happened because there was nothing to make workers aware of the dangers caused by machinery maintenance. Barriers, guards and signs should have been used to indicate that maintenance was taking place.

Safe plant and equipment

Employers should ensure plant and equipment is made safe before maintenance starts, through:

Safe isolation
  • Ensuring moving plant has stopped and isolate electrical and other power supplies. Most maintenance should be carried out with the power off. If the work is near uninsulated, overhead electrical conductors, e.g. close to overhead travelling cranes, cut the power off first.
  • Locking off machines if there is a chance the power could be accidentally switched back on.
  • Isolating plant and pipelines containing pressured fluid, gas, steam or hazardous material. Locking off isolating valves.

Other factors needing to be considered
  • Releasing any stored energy, such as compressed air or hydraulic pressure that could cause the machine to move or cycle.
  • Supporting parts of plant that could fall, e.g. support the blades of down-stroking bale cutters and guillotines with blocks.
  • Allowing components that operate at high temperatures time to cool.
  • Place mobile plant in neutral gear, apply the brake and chock the wheels.
  • Safely cleaning out vessels containing flammable solids, liquids, gases or dusts, and check them before hot work is carried out to prevent explosions. Specialist help and advice may be needed to do this safely.
  • Avoiding entering tanks and vessels where possible. This can be very high-risk work. If required, get specialist help to ensure adequate precautions are taken.
  • Cleaning and checking vessels containing toxic materials before work starts.

Dos and don’ts of plant and equipment maintenance


  • ensure maintenance is carried out by a competent person (someone who has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to do the work safely);
  • maintain plant and equipment regularly – use the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions as a guide, particularly if there are safety-critical features;
  • have a procedure that allows workers to report damaged or faulty equipment;
  • provide the proper tools for the maintenance person;
  • schedule maintenance to minimise the risk to other workers and the maintenance person wherever possible;
  • make sure maintenance is done safely, that machines and moving parts are isolated or locked and that flammable/explosive/toxic materials are dealt with properly.


  • ignore maintenance;
  • ignore reports of damaged or unsafe equipment;
  • use faulty or damaged equipment.

Safe lifting by machine

If the employer provides lifting equipment for use at work, or if they have control of the use of lifting equipment, they must make sure it is safe.

Employers should think about what risks there may be and how they can be managed, for example:
  • damage or deterioration of the equipment caused by wet, abrasive or corrosive environments;
  • trying to move weights that are too heavy and exceed the load limit of the machine;
  • equipment failure;
  • untrained workers planning the lift or using the equipment;
  • people being struck by moving parts of the machinery or by things falling.

Safe lifting needs to be properly planned by a competent person, appropriately supervised and carried out safely. Any equipment used must have been properly designed, manufactured and tested. Not forgetting the need to maintain it properly.

Factors that should be considered

  • What is being lifted?
  • How heavy is it?
  • Where is its centre of gravity?
  • How will it be attached to the lifting machinery?
  • Who is in control of the lift?
  • What are the safe limits of the equipment?
  • Could the lift be rehearsed if necessary?

Dos and don’ts when using lifting machinery


  • use only certified lifting equipment, marked with its safe working load, which has been regularly examined to ensure it is fit for purpose;
  • keep the reports of any examinations as well as any declarations of conformity or test certificates;
  • make sure the load is properly attached to the lifting equipment. If necessary, securely bind the load to prevent it slipping or falling off;
  • before lifting an unbalanced load, find out its centre of gravity. Raise it a few inches off the ground and pause – there should be little harm if it drops;
  • use packaging to prevent sharp edges of the load from damaging slings and do not allow tackle to be damaged by being dropped, dragged from under loads or subjected to sudden loads;
  • when using jib cranes, make sure any indicators for safe loads are working properly and set correctly for the job and the way the machine is configured;
  • use outriggers where necessary;
  • when using multi-slings, make sure the sling angle is taken into account;
  • have a responsible slinger or banksman and use a recognized signalling system.


  • use unsuitable equipment, e.g. makeshift, damaged, badly worn chains shortened with knots, kinked or twisted wire ropes, frayed or rotted fibre ropes;
  • exceed the safe working load of machinery or accessories like chains, slings and grabs. Remember that the load in the legs of a sling increases as the angle between the legs increases;
  • lift a load if you doubt its weight or the adequacy of the equipment.

Find out more
  1. HSE’s work equipment and machinery website
  2. Providing and using work equipment safely: A brief guide  
  3. Lifting equipment at work: A brief guide 
  4. Napo in... safe maintenance

Vehicle repair

Motor vehicle repair work has particular dangers and the employer (or self employed person) needs to identify and minimize the risks to both safety and health. To help them achieve this, some specific precautions should be taken:
  • Make sure vehicle brakes are applied and wheels are chocked. Always start and run engines with the brakes on and in neutral gear.
  • Support vehicles on both jacks and axle stands, never rely on jacks alone.
  • Always prop/support raised vehicle bodies with equipment/tools designed for the task.
  • Always ensure that vehicles elevated on lifting equipment are properly positioned and stable and that all arm locks (where provided) are fully engaged.
  • Ensure paint sprayers who use ‘two-pack’ paints use air-fed respiratory equipment to protect them against isocyanate exposure, which can cause occupational asthma.
  • Beware of fire and explosion risks when draining and repairing fuel tanks, and from battery gases. Never drain petrol tanks near or over a pit.
  • Ensure you do not short-circuit batteries.
  • Use a tyre cage when inflating commercial tyres and stand away from the trajectory zone, particularly those with multi-piece or divided wheels as explosions do happen.
  • Brake and clutch pads on older cars may contain asbestos, so always use appropriate precautions.
  • Wear protective clothing when handling battery acid.
  • Be aware of the risk from mineral oil contamination (especially used engine oils) on hands and other parts of the body. Frequent and prolonged contact with used engine oil may cause dermatitis and other skin disorders, including skin cancer. Good personal hygiene at all times is essential and this includes making sure overalls are cleaned regularly.

Find out more
  1. Safety and health at the motor vehicle repair shop
  2. Health and safety in the motor vehicle repair industry
  3. Health and safety in motor vehicle repair and associated industries 
  4. Reducing ill health and accidents in motor vehicle repair