To test or not to test?

I recently received the following query from a client:

“I have come across various items of equipment which appear to have integral LEV types of arrangement ……..  All have been introduced to reduce the level of dust or chemical that may have a deleterious effect on the user of the equipment.  I am unsure if all are considered strictly LEV and subject to the 14 month inspection period.  Having asked a number of the manufacturers of the equipment if the LEV has been designed  and confirmed to reduce exposure adequately, they often reply that it was included as a desirable attempt at reducing exposure.  Where does this leave me?  Should I be getting the LEV commissioned and deemed appropriate?  For the majority of equipment the requirement to adequately maintain it under PUWER has meant that it is regularly serviced, but is this enough in relation to the LEV component?”

I think we sometimes get hung up about LEV. In fact Regulation 9 of COSHH requires maintenance of ALL controls and a regular thorough examination and test of all ENGINEERING controls. (see COSHH Reg 9.2 which states

“ Where engineering controls are provided to meet the requirements of regulation 7, the employer shall ensure that thorough examination and testing of those controls is carried out”

The only difference for “LEV” is that the maximum interval is specified and some specific guidance on what this should involve and other aspects of managing the control is available. In fact the general  principles set out in HSG258 regarding the management of LEV (commissioning, maintenance and testing) are really relevant to all engineering controls. LEV is only singled out because it is a common control where these aspects are particularly important if the system is to be effective.

Servicing in accordance with PUWER is unlikely to properly address the LEV. It may ensure that the fan works, for example, but the most important aspect of LEV testing is to verify  that the contaminants are being controlled, and this will almost certainly not be done.

So I think the good practice set out in HSG 258 is relevant to the systems mentioned by the client, although the concept of “reasonable practicability” should be applied when deciding exactly what is needed and how urgently the issue is addressed. Some systems will be more important than others in respect to controlling exposure and it would be best to identify these and prioritise them. Also the amount of work involved will depend on the design of the system.

In the case of simple systems used to control low concentrations of contaminants  it may only be necessary to introduce  smoke testing and a few basic measurements in addition to what you are already doing. However, more complex systems used to control higher concentrations of more hazardous substances are likely to need a more substantial test.

Of course, this is only my personal view. A HSE Inspector may have a different interpretation!

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