Gary Rowe

| November 14 2019

Who Can Use Power Tools?


A reader recently asked, ‘who is allowed to operate lathes?’ This raised a wider question in my mind about what power tools and equipment workers should be allowed to use?

Many people don’t realise there are some subtle aspects regarding competency to operate plant and equipment. We explain in this article.

Plant Requiring a Licence

Workplace safety regulations in each state specify training and competency licences for what they call “high risk work”.

However, this is only specified for:

  • Scaffolding
  • Crane operators, riggers and dogmen
  • Boom elevating work platforms (cherry pickers)
  • Forklifts
  • Order picking forklift
  • Lifts & hoists
  • Concrete placing booms

A sample high risk work licence.
In this case for boom-type elevating
work platform (WP), arrowed.

GR article 1
GR article 2 GR article 3
Order picker Forklift truck

Illegal to Allow or Operate Without a Licence

It is a breach of the regulations for any manager or supervisor to allow or ask any person to operate designated high-risk plant without the relevant licence.

Equipment Not Covered by Licences

There are many items of equipment which pose a high-risk of serious injury or death, yet they are not covered by regulated licences.

GR article 4 GR article 5
Frontend Loader Bobcat Excavator

For example; portable power tools, lathes, grinders, shaping machines, welders, scissors lift, bobcats, excavators and many more potentially hazardous items of equipment have no licence requirements under the regulations.

Duty to Ensure All Operators are Competent

All employers have duty (eg OHS Act S.21) to ensure all operators of plant and equipment are trained and competent.

In circumstances not controlled by regulated licences, the employer is to train or confirm training and competency for each item of equipment used by their workers. This can be an external course, e.g. at a TAFE, or internal training.

Can Maintenance Team Use all Workshop Equipment?

Unless your maintenance team have been formally trained in correct and safe use of a particular item of equipment as part of their trade qualification, they should not be allowed to use it until trained and authorised to do so.

Even for workers who have a trade qualification (e.g. turner & fitter) which included training in correct operation of lathes, you need to ensure they are familiar with the specific model of lathe you have, per manufacturer’s manual.

If unsure if a person’s trade qualification included training on a particular item of equipment you can confirm by asking your local TAFE about trade training content

If you have trade qualified staff who are not formally trained to operate your equipment, but you would like to allow them to use it you can:

  1. Send them to a short TAFE course; or
  2. Train them internally using the manufacturer’s manual (by a competent person).

In both cases above you need to save records on file to prove they were trained and assessed competent by the trainer. Even better, a short theory and or practical test will prove beyond doubt they understood the training and were competent at the time.

Refresher Training

Best practice companies set a refresher period for plant operation training (e.g. 2 to 5 yearly refreshers), but there is no regulation requiring this unless staff operate licensed plant where licences must be renewed 5-yearly.

Principle – Trained and Authorised

In short, your company policy should be No person is to operate any item of plant or powered equipment unless trained and authorised to do so.

This prevents people with a licence (eg forklift licence) assuming they can use any forklift anywhere without permission.

Skills Matrix

One convenient way to show who is trained and authorised to operate various items of equipment is to have a Skills Matrix, per the sample below.

GR article 6


If you would like a copy of our workshop safety checklist or have a safety question give us a call us on 03 8544 4300 or email

GR article 7
Safety Action Workshop Safety Guide


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