After a long period left dormant how will we know that safety critical equipment in venues will be legally compliant and fit for purpose post pandemic?

It should be clear to the events business that starting up again will not just be a question of walking into a venue and switching on the lights.   

In the UK and under EU law all work equipment must be inspected to ensure that it is safe to use and fit for purpose1Usually, these vital inspections continue unseen right across our logistical operation. Equipment such as lifting equipment and pressure systems fall under specific regulations which require an engineers inspection within a given time period. Even a professional coffee machine, which, after all is a pressure vessel, is covered by the need for statutory inspections. The problem is that much of that equipment will have missed its inspection slot during the yearlong + lockdown.  This is particularly so for rigging equipment and any equipment designed to carry people e.g. passenger lifts which require these inspections every six months. This is not just a legal issue. Even dormant systems can be compromised, for example, with erosion due to water ingress or water content in the air, the accumulation of dust and detritus or activities of vermin such as rats and mice. 

The HSE has issued guidance for the pandemic to clarify their position. In their statement they say that ‘the legal obligation to ensure that work plant and equipment is maintained and is safe to use remains in place’. In other words, there is no automatic concession due to the pandemic. The details can be accessed via HSE guidance2 but to clarify, this broadly covers, rigging equipment and ancillaries, fork lift trucks, cranes, passenger and cargo liftselectrical plant and pressure systems such as portable air compressors. At present the issue is largely academic in the UK because the industry is shut down anyway and the HSE further states that the ‘HSE will adopt a pragmatic and proportionate approach towards enforcement action for noncompliance with statutory requirements directly attributable to the coronavirus outbreak. The enforcement response in these circumstances will normally be to take no action if the only failing is that thorough examination and testing is not carried out by the required date. 

The problem arises when the industry starts up again. Whilst there may be a slow start initially, there is still likely to be a surge in demand for the engineers who are competent to test this equipment which could cause delays. ESSA has reported that by the end of Q1 2021 80% of the contractor base will have been laid off. Freelancers have migrated away from events to TV, film and other industries so there is likely to be an acute shortage of engineers just at the point when they are most in demand.  

The HSE guidance does make some concession to operating equipment outside its statutory inspection window: ‘Equipment should only be used outside its test regime if dutyholders can demonstrate that it is critical for essential work and can still be operated safely. They must be able to demonstrate that they have made reasonable attempts to have thorough examination and testing carried out, obtained competent advice to produce a thorough assessment of the increased risk and taken appropriate action to manage it. 

If, for example, the equipment has been dormant in a non-corrosive environment then provided it had been subject to a statutory inspection before, it would be reasonable to consider it safe to use for short period until the inspection could be arranged. The HSE is clear that in these situations there must be documentary evidence i.e. a written risk assessment to back this up. Notwithstanding, enquiries will need to be made that operating equipment without a current statutory inspection record does not invalidate any applicable insurances since even if the HSE allows some latitude there is no guarantee that insurers will take the same view. 

Whatever the case, venues and contractors need to ensure that these inspections are carried out as part of the recommissioning of their operations or that appropriate alternative arrangements are in place and that the insurances are still valid. Organisers should remember that they have duties as the Client under CDM regulations with an overall responsibility and must therefore make reasonable enquiries to ensure that such equipment used in the event space is safe and compliant.   

In the UK/EU, in reputable venues and at well-resourced events it should be fairly simple to manage this issue as it is largely one of technical compliance. In countries which do not have an imbedded health and safety culture backed up by law or at less well-resourced events there is a real risk of a serious accident. In these situations, we traditionally rely more heavily on a combination of only engaging reputable contractors and closely monitoring activities in construction and on the event floor. The lack of resources for even basic maintenance has always been an issue in developing countries and the pandemic and the consequential financial losses will have exacerbated this situation. Venues and contractors will be under pressure to cut costs and take risks. There will need to be a much greater reliance on event operations and safety staff asking the right questions to ensure that safety critical equipment is safe to use. 

It should be clear to the events business that starting up again will not just be a question of walking into a venue and switching on the lights. Checks like these which were, to an extent, taken for granted previously, will need to be positively verified before we can begin to build and run events again. 

  1. The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER); •The Pressure Systems Safety Regulations (PSSR); • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment (PUWER) (including power presses); • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) (for local exhaust ventilation (LEV)); • The Electricity at Work Regulations (EWR) 
  1. The HSE guidance can be accessed via their website.