Maintenance of work equipment

UKCA marking or CE marking for new machines

New machines must be UKCA marked or CE marked and supplied with a Declaration of Conformity and instructions in English.

From 1 January 2025, new machinery that is only CE marked will no longer be acceptable in Great Britain. You can find more information on this change from the Office for Product Safety and Standards.

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

It 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 maintenance of plant and equipment is 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 that:

  • all work equipment be maintained in an efficient state, in efficient order and in good repair
  • where any machinery has a maintenance log, the log is kept up to date
  • maintenance operations on work equipment can be carried out safely

Key actions you must take

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 if:

  • tools break during use
  • machinery starts up unexpectedly
  • there is contact with materials that are normally enclosed within the machine, for example caused by leaks, breakage or ejection

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.

Extra care is also required if maintenance involves:

  • working at height or when doing work that requires access to unusual parts of the building
  • entering vessels or confined spaces where there may be toxic materials or a lack of air

Who can maintain work equipment

Maintenance work should only be carried out by those who are competent to do the work, and have been provided with sufficient information, instruction and competence training (PUWER regulations 8 and 9).

With high-risk or complex equipment, these demands may be significant and, in some cases, may be best undertaken by the manufacturer or specialist contractors. However, in many cases, maintenance can be done in-house by suitably trained, competent staff.

For some maintenance work, for example the changing of abrasive wheels, there are well-established industry training schemes. In other cases, such as for the use of small-scale scaffold towers, sufficient training may be provided by the equipment hirers.

In other work, such as with hand-held chainsaws, training on the safe maintenance of the equipment is normally provided as an integral part of the basic training in its safe use.

How you can maintain equipment safely

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 here are other steps you should consider.

Before you start maintenance

  • Decide if the work should be done by specialist contractors. Never take on work for which you are not prepared or competent
  • Plan the work carefully before you start, ideally using the manufacturer's maintenance instructions, and produce a safe system of work. This will avoid unforeseen delays and reduce the risks
  • Make sure maintenance staff are competent and have appropriate clothing and equipment
  • Try and use downtime for maintenance. You can avoid the difficulties in co-ordinating maintenance and production work if maintenance work is performed before start-up or during shutdown periods

Safe working areas

  • You must provide safe access and a safe place of work
  • Don't just focus on the safety of maintenance workers – take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of others who may be affected by their work, such as other employees or contractors working nearby
  • Set up signs and barriers and position people at key points if they are needed to keep other people out

Safe plant and equipment

Plant and equipment must be made safe before maintenance starts.

Safe isolation

  • Ensure moving plant has stopped and isolate electrical and other power supplies. Most maintenance should be carried out with the power off. If the work is near uninsulated, overhead electrical conductors, eg close to overhead travelling cranes, cut the power off first
  • Lock off machines if there is a chance the power could be accidentally switched back on
  • Isolate plant and pipelines containing pressured fluid, gas, steam or hazardous material. Lock off isolating valves

Other factors you need to consider

  • Release any stored energy, such as compressed air or hydraulic pressure that could cause the machine to move or cycle
  • Support parts of plant that could fall, for example support the blades of down-stroking bale cutters and guillotines with blocks
  • Allow components that operate at high temperatures time to cool
  • Place mobile plant in neutral gear, apply the brake and chock the wheels
  • Safely clean out vessels containing flammable solids, liquids, gases or dusts, and check them before hot work is carried out to prevent explosions. You may need specialist help and advice to do this safely
  • Avoid entering tanks and vessels where possible. This can be very high-risk work. If required, get specialist help to ensure adequate precautions are taken
  • Clean and check vessels containing toxic materials before work starts

High-risk equipment

For high-risk equipment, you may need positive means of disconnecting the equipment from the energy source (such as isolation), along with means to prevent inadvertent reconnection for example by locking off.

Formal systems of work, such as a permit to work, are required in some cases to safely manage high-risk maintenance operations.

Significant hazards during maintenance

In some cases, it may not be possible to avoid particular significant hazards during the maintenance of work equipment so you should take appropriate measures to protect people and minimise the risk. These may include:

  • physical measures, such as providing temporary guarding, slow speed hold-to-run control devices, safe means of access, personal protective equipment
  • management issues, including safe systems of work, supervision, monitoring
  • personnel competence (training, skill, awareness and knowledge of risk)

It is important that these situations are properly assessed. Workers carrying out maintenance may need to undertake significant on-the-job risk assessment (essentially considering what could go wrong and how to avoid injury), as the situation may develop and change in ways that could not be foreseen at the outset.

Safe maintenance health check

HSE's safe maintenance health check provides a question list which can help you carry out safe maintenance.

Work equipment may need to be constructed or adapted in a way that takes account of the risks associated with maintenance work, for example:

  • lubrication and adjustment points can be repositioned or adapted to enable the work to be carried out at ground level
  • safe means of access can be provided on the equipment (such as handholds, anti-slip surfaces for feet), or so that guarding to prevent contact with dangerous parts can be kept in place

In most cases (all machinery supplied since 1995), this should have been taken into account by the manufacturer in the design of the equipment, and by you when deciding which product to purchase. However, this may not always be the case and it may not apply to older work equipment on your site.

Dos and don'ts of plant and equipment maintenance

To maintain plant and equipment safely:

  • ensure maintenance is carried out by a competent person (someone who has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to carry out the work safely)
  • maintain plant and equipment regularly – use the manufacturer's maintenance instructions as a guide, particularly if there are safety-critical features
  • have a procedure that allows workers to report damaged or faulty equipment
  • provide the proper tools for the maintenance person
  • schedule maintenance to minimise the risk to other workers and the maintenance person wherever possible
  • make sure maintenance is done safely, that machines and moving parts are isolated or locked and that flammable/explosive/toxic materials are dealt with properly

To prevent accidents and injuries:

  • don’t ignore maintenance
  • don’t ignore reports of damaged or unsafe equipment
  • never use faulty or damaged equipment

Examples of accidents involving maintenance work

Poor training and work practices

A worker received crush injuries to their head and neck while they were carrying out 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.

Barriers, guards and signs

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 their 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.

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Updated: 2023-09-12