Hazards during maintenance
What is maintenance?
In this context, maintenance simply means keeping the workplace, its structures, equipment, machines, furniture and facilities operating safely, while also making sure that their condition does not decline. Regular maintenance can also prevent their sudden and unexpected failure.
There are two main types of maintenance:
- preventive or proactive maintenance - periodic checks and repairs; and
- corrective or reactive maintenance - carrying out unforeseen repairs on workplace facilities or equipment after sudden breakage or failure. This is usually more hazardous than scheduled maintenance.
Why is it an issue?
Maintenance-related accidents are a serious cause of concern. For example, analysis of data from recent years indicates that 25-30% of manufacturing industry fatalities in Great Britain were related to maintenance activity.
Undertaking maintenance activities can potentially expose the workers involved (and others) to all sorts of hazards, but there are four issues that merit particular attention because of the severity of the harm that could be involved, and because they are commonly encountered during plant and building maintenance.
- Disturbing asbestos
The health consequences of disturbing asbestos when drilling holes into the building fabric or replacing panels can be severe, as can the clean up costs involved.
- Falls from height
Maintenance work often involves using access equipment to reach roofs, gutters, building services, and raised sections of plant and machinery. It can be all too easy to fall from these positions, or to drop things onto people beneath.
- Isolation and permits to work
Isolation and lock off arrangements, and in some cases permits to work, are essential to enable maintenance work to be conducted safely.
- Falls of heavy items
Heavy items sometimes have to be moved, or get disturbed, during maintenance work. If one of these falls, the results can be fatal. There may well be cranes, fork lift trucks or props available for use, but maintenance tasks can sometimes involve one-off situations and the handling of heavy loads isn't always properly planned.
- Selection of contractors
You may do some or most of your plant and building maintenance in-house, but there will always be tasks that are too big or specialised and require contractors. To enable both in-house and contracted staff to work in safety you will need to properly brief them on your site and processes, and you will need them to follow safe working practices.