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Introduction and speech at the launch of European Campaign for Safe Maintenance - 21 June 2010

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

Safe maintenance - a fundamental and integral element of every safety system

Opening remarks

Welcome to this event today which marks the launch of the 2010/11 European Campaign - and the theme for this year will be to focus on Safe Maintenance. During the course of the morning we will hear short presentations from a number of partners in this campaign and this will be followed by an opportunity for networking over a sandwich lunch.

It is important to remember that today is the launch of a themed programme which will run throughout for the next 18 months. Part of the purpose in your being here is to engage you as promoters of the programme and of its key messages. It is also an opportunity for you to find out about the resources which are available to help in promoting the campaign and to make contacts with others who will be engaged in the programme. There are people here today from manufacturing companies, SME specific trade associations, Trade Unions and Local Authorities.

We are grateful to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work for the assistance and resources to enable today's event to go ahead, along with other events which are planned in Scotland and Wales and the regions.

I will be chairing today's event as well as delivering the first of the presentations.

This campaign needs to reach a whole variety of organisations and individuals over the next year:

So let's get underway with my "take" on things.

Speech

For most of us going about our daily lives "maintenance" means one of two things:

Maintenance doesn't have attached to it quite the glamour or importance of design, construction or even production. But let us all be very clear this morning that maintenance is fundamental to the integrity of every system, and safe maintenance is fundamental and integral to a real and effective health and safety system in every workplace.

For me there can be no better example of this than HSE's experience over recent years in the offshore industry. Our Offshore Division's KP3 report in 2007 highlighted the lack of importance that had been given to maintenance and asset integrity on many of the UK's ageing offshore platforms.

What we observed were assumptions being made that important maintenance work could be put off without detriment to the integrity of the system. And assumptions being made about the projected life of the assets which turned out to be wrong.

So the first thing to recognise about maintenance is its fundamental importance to the safety of the whole system. Neglected and poorly maintained machines and equipment fail when you least expect and often with major safety consequences - an uncontrolled leak of gas or fluid from a pipe being an obvious and ubiquitous example.

In these circumstances, the "Maintenance" work that has to be done - which is actually emergency breakdown work. Is, in itself, more hazardous because the work is unplanned and people are not prepared and under pressure to get the job done quickly. As a result, the right tools and equipment may not be available, not to mention the right spares to fix the job properly. So the second important message about maintenance is that planned maintenance is inherently safer than unplanned maintenance.

Some of you will be aware that I worked in industry for many years. And in the 1970s and 80s it was very common for people to say (and they weren't joking): "It ain't broke so there's no need to fix it". I am glad to say we've come a long way since then.

But nonetheless there is still a tendency even today to try to push maintenance schedules out for as long as possible.

In many ways maintenance is like health and safety in the minds of some managers. A cost/burden that has to be added on top of everything else rather than what it really is. Which is a route to greater efficiency, productivity and improved bottom lines.

So that makes safe maintenance doubly important. Data from recent years tells us that in the manufacturing industry some 25 to 30 per cent of all fatalities were the result of maintenance activities. I know from personal experience and from studying HSE's collected data what sort of accidents can happen in maintenance:

So safe maintenance requires time to plan the job properly; to ensure that the tools and equipment to do the job are available; and to ensure that everyone knows what is going on.

Not just the people who are going to do the work but others around them so that preparation can be made. Moreover, that jobs are handed over properly at the beginning and at the end of the maintenance work.

One of the very important stages of safe maintenance that is frequently overlooked, probably because it has to be done before the equipment even exists let alone starts to operate, is during the design phase.

Poorly designed plant and equipment creates a legacy of inherently hazardous and difficult maintenance work. Whether that be cramped and difficult workspaces or something as simple as lighting fixtures 20 or 30 feet in the air that can only be accessed safely from a scaffold.

It's my personal belief that one of the most important features of the Construction, Design and Maintenance Regulations is the requirement for designers and architects to think about and take account of how their grand designs will be maintained throughout their life not just how they will be built in the first place. Although, even in spite of this, we continue to see designs built with inherent flaws that make aspects of their maintenance fraught with difficulty.

I hope very much, therefore, that this campaign will extend to designers as well and act as a reminder to them of the crucial role which they have to play and which I believe they need to take much more seriously.

Maintenance work also requires proper skills and competence. I am personally very pleased to see the re-emergence of apprenticeship schemes and I very strongly believe that the very best way to ensure that maintenance work is carried out safely is to train young people in the right and safe way to do the job, not to teach them the skills and then add on safety requirements as an afterthought.

For example, the Board of HSE recently paid a visit to an agricultural college in Northamptonshire, and we were all very impressed to see young people there being taught how to handle some of the most hazardous machinery that some of us had ever seen. But they were learning that safe handling was not an option. Instead, it was part of the job - the only way of doing it.

There is no doubt at all in my mind that this campaign fits well with HSE's strategy for health and safety in the 21st Century.

Safe maintenance requires leadership, competence, involvement of everyone in the workforce and it is a fundamental and integral element of a healthy and safe system of work in any and every workplace.

Like everything else to do with health and safety, this is about getting people to understand that maintenance:

I am delighted to be here to offer my own support and that of HSE to this campaign.

Updated 2010-06-25