The Principles and Legal Responsibilities of Hiring Plant
Hiring equipment transfers some of the onus of legal responsibility and liability to the plant hire company.
However, not all: in the case of HSE vs Hydro Plant in 2012, all three agents; the principal contractor, the plant hire company and the excavator operator were all prosecuted for negligence when an excavator bucket fell on a foreman and killed him.
To avoid criminal liability, contractors should comply with requirements and duties of employers and the self-employed as described in the Health and Safety at Work, Act 1974 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, with emphasis on those duties concerning the suitability, maintenance and inspection of work equipment.
The plant hire company is considered the supplier by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) under section 6 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, so assumes the responsibility for pre-delivery inspections and safety checks, as well as all necessary inspections required under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER), if appropriate.
However, the contractor is responsible for pre-use safety checks. Additionally, “where the safety of work equipment depends on the installation conditions, it should be inspected after installation and before first use, and after reassembly at any new site/location.” (HSE Inspection of Work Equipment Guidance.) In the case of prolonged periods of hire, the contractor should agree who bears responsibility for periodic safety checks with the hire company. Risk assessments and company policies should cover hired equipment.
Contractors hiring plant can demonstrate due diligence by ensuring any users are competent and qualified; prohibiting any use of work equipment other than for its designated purpose or removal from site; and ensuring that plant hire companies used have adequate public liability insurance and adhere to thorough maintenance and inspection standards.
Contractors must ensure that insurance is in place to cover hiring plant. The plant hire company may offer to temporarily include contractors on their owner’s insurance for a fee, if necessary.