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Manufacturing: returning to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic

2. Machinery and building safety

This guidance is aimed at employers and businesses with machinery used in traditional manufacturing and fabrication processes.

We have separate guidance on integral pressure systems such as:

  • hydraulics and compressed air services
  • steam generators used in cafés and coffee shops
  • solvent recovery vessels forming part of the dry cleaning process

Machinery safety

If machinery has not been used for a long period of time (weeks, possibly months) then additional risks can be created from the inactivity. You must ensure that you assess these risks before restarting plant and equipment. In doing so, you need to consider the following:

  • any extended period of inactivity is likely to degrade the condition of machines, leading to increase in corrosion (rust) and possible seizure.
  • process liquids may separate out causing an uneven consistency or it may solidify completely. This will create additional problems with restarting and need further unplanned interventions within parts of the machinery, pipework or vessel.
  • it’s possible that automated machine parts or processes may have moved out of calibration, from their previously recorded or registered positions. This could cause machinery to move out of sequence and make contact with passing products or other machine parts when restarted.

Inspection

You should consider doing a detailed hands-on assessment of your machinery before returning to production, including the following:

  • a visual check of the structural framework of the equipment (such as welded and bolted joints, bonded structure, cast components, paint or anodized protection) as their condition may not be clearly visible.
  • with the machinery stationary, use your senses, including hearing, touch and smell to closely examine the fixed and moving parts. Check for any signs of rust, delayering or deformation. For parts that are concealed, you may need to do a functional test (running the machine in a no-load condition, at slow speed if possible) looking and listening for any indications that the moving parts are in distress. If any parts are in distress, you may need to do a further strip down.

Maintenance

It's important that you take any corrective action following your inspection of the physical condition of machinery before returning it into service. Maintenance ensures that it continues to operate safely and also that it's reliable and productive.

Dealing with first products off the line

You need to have a safe method for dealing with the first products off the line, such as plastic or textile sheet material, as it may be spoilt or sub-quality. You will need to remove these from the process line in greater quantities or at different points than under normal circumstances. Plan where these larger volumes of first products will be stored and how they will be transported safely.

Recommissioning machinery or process lines

When you restart individual machines or process lines you should consider it as recommissioning. This is to ensure that all safety devices and process operations sequence correctly and function reliably, as intended. In all circumstances, before you fully restart machinery, make sure that it was shut down correctly.

Recommissioning is considered to be more extensive than normal maintenance or setting activities, placing significant reliance on individuals, through their experience and interaction to ensure safety.

You should consider the following:

  • don’t rely on full reassurance of safety and process control devices, until recommissioning is complete.
  • produce a written recommissioning plan that identifies the hazards and the correct method for the recommissioning work to be completed. The plan should provide a regimented system of work, to minimise the potential dangers from equipment not functioning as anticipated.
  • define who should do the work. Recommissioning is a complex series of tasks and there is high reliance on personnel to follow procedures.
  • a competent engineer(s), familiar with the machinery or process should devise the written instructions for recommissioning, to familiarise all personnel with what tasks are expected to be done and how.
  • how you will ensure that appropriate supervision is in place to audit/ensure that work is being carried out correctly.

Detailed information for the control of machinery hazards, including recommissioning is contained in a British Standard BS14100.

British standards Institution (BSI) website

Contractors

During the pandemic, the availability of contractors may be limited due to a backlog of work that was not completed during lockdown or reduced numbers within the workforce due to coronavirus. Where your business relies on specialist support services from contractors, such as insurance examiners or agency staff, you must ensure that services are carried out by those who have the necessary skills, knowledge and training.

Consider the availability and suitability of contractors when planning for preparation and start-up of plant and equipment to ensure this work is carried out safely.

Building safety

Building safety includes the provision of general services such as ventilation, fire protection and site services, including water, air, electricity, together with material storage areas and fume extraction. If the condition of these general services has deteriorated, there is increased potential of danger, for example, from fire, explosion or the collapse of stored material. Employers should check the condition of these general building services, considering:

  • flooding or unnoticed loss of process materials, fluids etc into sumps, service tunnels and pits
  • any loss of secondary protections such as cooling water supplies or fire suppression systems
  • nesting of birds or other wildlife in vents, intakes or exhausts from process lines
  • accumulation of gases or oxygen depleted atmospheres in areas where material would not otherwise stand for long periods
  • potential degradation of material stacks, particularly bales of organic material that produce methane as they decompose
  • building closure or reduced occupancy during the pandemic that could lead to water system stagnation due to lack of use. Read our advice on legionella risks during the pandemic

Page last reviewed: 5 October 2020

Next review due: 2 November 2020

Updated 2020-10-05