Homemade or modified plant and equipment in the workplace

26 July 2017

Chris WebbIt never ceases to amaze me in the creative ways people overcome issues in the workplace by designing and making tools or plant, or modifying existing tools to fit a purpose. One of the main issues with this is to ensure that it is, how do you know it is properly designed and constructed, or if modified, has the structural integrity been changed?

A Person Conducting Business or Undertaking (PCBU) has the primary duty of care which includes but not limited to, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain safe plant and structures. So what does that mean? It means a PCBU that makes or modifies plant and equipment in its workplace needs to manage the risks associated with that plant, or equipment.

The risks with modifying or constructing tools, or equipment includes but not limited to:

  • Types of material used suitable for the application
  • Construction. Is it to a specific Australian/New Zealand or other Standard? Does it require engineering certification?
  • Structural integrity. Is it sufficient or has it been modified? Can it safely sustain the forces applied?
  • Safety mechanisms. Are they required and are they sufficient?

A recent prosecution in Australia, saw a company fined AUD$800,000 over a workplace fatality that involved homemade equipment. The enormity of the fine was more to do with the PCBU’s actions after the tragedy, but still serves as a lesson in the risks associated with homemade plant and equipment.

Australian Box Recycling, recycled boxes and paper into briquettes which were then passed onto consumers.

WorkSafe Victoria said, one of the owners had constructed a lifting device that would lift up boxes to allow workers to stack boxes beneath. This device required workers to work underneath the raised cage to remove a cross bar which allowed the cage to descend. However, there were no mechanical safety features to protect the worker if the hoist or cable failed.

In August 2014 a worker was killed whilst operating the lift. He attempted to remove the cross bar when the cable failed and the lift fell on him.

This article can be found at http://www.worksafenews.com.au

Some of the common homemade or modify plant and equipment that I see in the workplace is:

  • Wall Hangers, Shelving and Racking - Typically made from round bar or pipe welded onto flat bar and bolted to a wall or entire racking systems made from hollow section steel. These items are usually made to bare a significant amount of weight or stock of materials.
  • Modified Hand Tools - These maybe in the form of spanners cut down or bent to fit into a certain position. In one instance I saw a number of sockets welded together because they didn’t have the right size socket wrench. Electrical tools modified and potentially exposing the user to electrocution.
  • Weight Baring Stands and Workbenches - Similar to the shelving and racking. These items are used to bare a significant amount of weight or exposed to high forces.

The last thing that the Health and Safety legislation wants to do is stifle creativity, innovation and technological advancement. The legislation understands that there are risks in the workplace, all it asks is that we understand the risks and eliminate or minimise them so far as is reasonably practicable.

So if you are modifying/making tools, equipment in the workplace, how are you ensuring that they are designed and constructed to standard? How are you ensuring that they are fit for purpose and not exposing your workers to risks? How are you managing your risks?

At the time of writing, WorkSafe New Zealand issued a Safety Alert “Hydraulic Power Pack and Ram Failure Causing Death”, and the excerpt on how it happened “The hydraulic ram and power pack was built by the victim’s employer using a ram sourced from an excavator”.



Chris Webb | Health and Safety Manager | 03 456 1808 | 021 225 8408 | chris@osea.org.nz 

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