Used or re-conditioned machinery can appear an attractive economical option for a garment cleaning business. But unless the purchaser knows exactly what to look for and asks the right questions, they could end up with an item of equipment that is wrong for the job – and in some cases, be illegal to operate.

Machinery safety in laundries remains an important issue, while in the drycleaning field there are specific developments relating to solvent safety that cannot be ignored by operators.

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warns firms buying secondhand industrial machinery that “sold as seen” is no protection from liabilities under health and safety laws.

Both the seller and the buyer are responsible for ensuring that machinery is safe at all times when being set, used, cleaned and maintained. Suppliers have explicit duties to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that articles for use at work will be safe at all times when being set, used, cleaned or maintained. Purchasers may be required to provide a written undertaking that they will take specified steps to ensure that the article is safe.

Proper control of solvents is a basic health and safety requirement in drycleaners. With good solvent management and basic controls, it should be possible to reduce exposure to percholoroethylene to required standards.

Under the Solvent Emissions Directive (SED) all drycleaning operations set up since April 2001 had to apply for (and be issued with) an LAPPC Permit ensuring compliance by May 2004.

Any installation set up after May 2004 needs to do so immediately.

The SED states very clearly what the specification of the machines will need to be, in order for the installation to be issued a permit to operate the drycleaning plant. Secondhand machines fall within the remit of the SED regulations

Machinery suppliers have linked up through SLEAT (Society of Laundry Engineers and Allied Trades) to agree minimum specifications for new machinery and installations.

Anyone determined to buy a secondhand drycleaning machine is advised to carefully study the SED guidance note and then discuss this with his or her machine supplier.

To use or even turn on any drycleaning machine in situation of a new installation that has been completed on or after May 2005 without obtaining a drycleaning installation operators permit, is contravening a requirements under the Local Air Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999 (LAPPC), and could be subject to a fine of up to £2,000 for each offence. This could be applied each time the machine is turned on. Because the onus to comply is on the drycleaner, the machine specification must comply even if the machine is secondhand, imported or inter-industry acquired.

The majority of drycleaning machines supplied to the UK market will, with modifications, meet full requirements by September 2007. These modifications are being implemented on current production orders and the drycleaner can be assured that modification packs will be made available within the given timescale.

Laundry points to remember

Nicholas Harper of used-plant specialists Nicholas Harper & Associates advises:
* Think ahead and register an interest with the reputable concerns active in used plant. When exact requirements are located it usually means an inspection under working conditions may be made rather than under a tarpaulin in a rainy yard.
* Try to standardise on the same marque and enquire from the manufacturers or their agents if a service history is available.
* Health & Safety at work legislation is becoming onerous, so make sure that plant is compliant with current requirements.
* Have the proposed supplier put you in touch with concerns who have bought used to see what after sales service is available.
* List your precise requirements and discuss in advance what you actually need. If quality is your aim, then older machinery having been well maintained is preferable to modern high volume designed plant.

Drycleaning points to remember

* Decide upon a good manufacturer, respected machine model and bear its age in mind.
* Discover the history of the machine. Find out what has the machine has processed, and what solvents or detergents have been used.
* Determine if the machine in question has a maintenance record, and whether the equipment is covered by a warranty.
* Drycleaners can contact the original machine manufacturers to gain more information on SED upgrade packs.