STIHL change the rules and dealer contracts

Be aware of your legal responsibilities

In a recent announcement to its dealer network, STIHL has informed dealers of a need for a contract change due to the merging of the STIHL and Viking brands, and the increasing use of internet purchases.

One of the changes will allow dealers to ship products direct to an end user without a personal handover or instruction. The exception to this will be chainsaws and spare parts. This seems to be contrary to compliance with Section 6 of The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, although STIHL suggests that dealers offer the customer the option of advice and instruction before purchase and shipping, and that this can be done by online methods, such as videos or web chats, face-to-face or over the phone.

The Act places a duty on sellers (e.g. machinery dealers) to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the person (customer) supplied with the product (e.g. items of work equipment) are given adequate information about the intended use etc.

This general duty in the Act applies to anyone in the supply chain and covers articles for use at work when they are being used, set, cleaned or maintained. This obligation includes providing information and instructions (e.g. the operator’s manual or handbook), and includes any subsequent revisions to that information.

The law requires that duty holders do what is reasonably practicable to supply equipment that is safe for use at work. If legal action were to be taken in any particular case, it would be for the defendant who has the legal duty (e.g. the dealer who supplied the item) to provide in court that it was not reasonably practicable to do more than they actually did.

So, in a practical context, simply handing over the operator’s manual without any further briefing (installation training) is unlikely to meet the requirements under Section 6 for the supply of most machines and equipment given the hazards/risks associated with them.

So dealers be warned, if you are sending machines out in a box, not assembled or PDi’d and there is a serious accident you may find yourselves liable under the act unless you can prove you have discharged your duty of care correctly. This generally requires a signature on a document that details the handover and identifies the equipment in question. It applies to all sales of machinery and not just STIHL equipment and not just for internet sales.

STIHL have also advised dealers to stop using the Viking Brand by December 31st 2021 and will want to work more closely with dealers to ensure a higher quality and better standards in the sub-dealer network.

It is understandable that manufacturers want to secure their distribution channels and end user business by pandering to the ever-growing importance of online selling but also keeping the loyal platform of a dealer network, mostly for bigger equipment. It could also being a case of having your cake and eating it, as one dealer put it. Those dealers that are more dedicated to the STIHL brand being sold in store may find themselves affected by this more open policy to online distance selling and even tighter margins.

Beware of the vagaries of consumer law and the possibility of incurring the wrath of the HSE. Distance selling may not be worth the risk for a skinny margin.