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Plant and equipment maintenance

Maintenance on plant and equipment is carried out to prevent problems arising, to put faults right, and to ensure equipment is working effectively.

Maintenance may be part of a planned programme or may have to be carried out at short notice after a breakdown. It always involves non-routine activities and can expose those involved (and others) to a range of risks.

Why is maintenance of plant and equipment important?

An effective maintenance programme will make plant and equipment more reliable. Fewer breakdowns will mean less dangerous contact with machinery is required, as well as having the cost benefits of better productivity and efficiency.

Additional hazards can occur when machinery becomes unreliable and develops faults. Maintenance allows these faults to be diagnosed early to manage any risks. However, maintenance needs to be correctly planned and carried out. Unsafe maintenance has caused many fatalities and serious injuries either during the maintenance or to those using the badly maintained or wrongly maintained/repaired equipment.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) require work equipment and plant to be maintained so it remains safe and the maintenance operation is carried out safely.

What do I have to do? 

If you are an employer and you provide equipment for use, from hand tools and ladders to electrical power tools and larger plant, you need to demonstrate that you have arrangements in place to make sure they are maintained in a safe condition.

Think about what hazards can occur:

Failing to correctly plan and communicate clear instructions and information before starting maintenance can lead to confusion and can cause accidents. This can be a particular problem if maintenance is during normal production work or where there are contractors who are unfamiliar with the site.

Case study one

A worker received crush injuries to his head and neck while he was undertaking maintenance work, when the hoist he was working on started up.

What caused the accident?

The power supply to the hoist had not been isolated before work started. This was because workers had not been given adequate training or instruction on safe isolation procedures. It was also found that isolation by the interlocked gates could be bypassed.

Extra care is also required if maintenance involves:

How can I do it?

Establishing a planned maintenance programme may be a useful step towards reducing risk, as well as having a reporting procedure for workers who may notice problems while working on machinery.

Some items of plant and equipment may have safety-critical features where deterioration would cause a risk. You must have arrangements in place to make sure the necessary inspections take place.

But there are other steps to consider:

Before you start maintenance

Safe working areas

Case study two

Maintenance staff removed a section of grating to gain access to plant located below a walkway. A worker fell through a gap in the walkway, seriously injuring his shoulder.

What caused the accident?

The fall happened because there was nothing to make workers aware of the dangers caused by machinery maintenance. Barriers, guards and signs should have been used to indicate that maintenance was taking place.

Safe plant and equipment

Plant and equipment must be made safe before maintenance starts.

Safe isolation

Other factors you need to consider

Dos and don’ts of plant and equipment maintenance

Do…

Don’t…

Updated 2013-01-03