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Legislation:Greater awareness needed

25 January 2013

A written scheme of examination is a legal requirement for almost all compressed air systems, yet many compressed air users seem unaware of the legislation. It can often be unclear as to where the responsibility lies to en

A written scheme of examination is a legal requirement for almost all compressed air systems, yet many compressed air users seem unaware of the legislation. It can often be unclear as to where the responsibility lies to ensure compliance. Andy Jones, general manager of Mattei Compressors, throws some light on the subject

The Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 that came into force on 21 February 2000 outlines the responsibilities of users and owners of pressure systems. The regulations state that users and owners need to demonstrate they know the safe operating limits, pressure and temperature of their systems, and that the systems are safe under those conditions.

The regulations also state that users of pressure systems must have a written scheme of examination, which is a document containing information about certain items of plant and equipment that form a pressure system, operate under pressure and contain a relevant fluid. A 'relevant fluid' is defined by the scheme of examination as compressed air or liquefied gas, including air at a pressure of more than 0.5 bar above atmospheric pressure; pressurised hot water above 110°C; and steam at any pressure.

By taking into account this definition, compressed air systems containing a pressure vessel should therefore be covered by a written scheme of examination. However, there is an exception for systems with a pressure vessel containing less that 250 bar litres.

In Mattei's experience, it seems many compressed air users are not aware of this legal requirement. But, with a potential fine of up to £20,000 for not having this document in place, it is certainly in the best interests of those responsible for compressed air systems to ensure it is arranged.

The written scheme of examination contains a wealth of important information.

Details within the document will include the parts of the system that need to be examined, the nature of the examinations, the preparatory work required and the maximum length of time between them.

Another important aspect of the document is the identification of the competent person who has certified the written scheme of examination.

It is not just a legal obligation to have the document, but also to carry out the examination of the compressed air system in line with terms and conditions it sets out.

Not doing this is also illegal, and those responsible will be liable for prosecution.

Therefore, once the written scheme is drafted and signed off, it essentially needs to become a working document to provide guidelines and timescales for the examinations to take place.

Turning to the issue of responsibility, the user of the installed system has to ensure the scheme has been produced. It is the responsibility of the owner to ensure the system is not used until the document is finished and the system examined. To get a scheme drawn up, a competent person has to either write the document, or certify it is suitable. However, the person carrying out the examinations does not have to be the one who prepared or certified the written scheme.

This said, the law does differ slightly if the compressor is a piece of mobile hire equipment. In this instance, the responsibility lies with the owner - ie the rental company. It is their responsibility to ensure all the necessary documentation is in place and the system is checked and maintained in line with the written scheme of examination.

For those compressed air users who are new to this legislation, there are opportunities to seek help. Responsible compressed air companies, such as Mattei, will be able to provide the document and carry out examinations in accordance with the written scheme, or at the very least provide advice on sourcing services.

While the document may seem like a paperwork exercise, the regulation has been introduced for good reason. Incorrectly designed or maintained air systems have the potential to be dangerous, with the main hazards being the impact from the blast if a system explodes, the impact from parts of equipment that fail, or any flying debris. By ensuring the system is installed and then maintained to a high standard at the right intervals - which the written scheme of examination will outline - it is possible to significantly reduce this risk. Having the scheme in place will also ensure the responsible person is not at risk of breaking the law, which could result in prosecution and a hefty fine. With so many compressed air companies available to help, there is no excuse not to comply with this important legislation.