Health and Safety and Maintenance Management
The purpose of a maintenance programme is to keep workplace plant and equipment in a state of good repair and efficient working order so that these assets can perform their functions efficiently and without risk to health and safety. As well as hazards associated with lack of maintenance, poorly planned or poor quality maintenance activities can create significant risks, not only to the building occupiers, but to those who undertake the maintenance activities themselves.
All these safety aspects must be considered when developing any facilities maintenance strategies and associated programmes of work.
Risks and maintenance
According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (OSHA), “regular maintenance has an important role in eliminating workplace hazards and providing safer and healthier working conditions”, but “lack of maintenance or inadequate maintenance can cause serious and deadly accidents or health problems”.
The deterioration of physical assets due to the lack of maintenance can clearly have significant health and safety consequences for an organisation, including:
- Serious harm to building occupiers by exposure to various physical, chemical or biological hazards
- Loss of use of physical assets through accident investigations and enforcement authority prohibitions, etc
- Financial losses through potential HSE fees for intervention, prosecution, civil claims and replacement of assets, production interruptions, etc.
In addition to this, the HSE states that unsafe maintenance is the cause of many fatalities and serious injuries, either during the actual maintenance or to those using the badly maintained or wrongly maintained/repaired equipment. Studies undertaken by the OSHA have estimated that around 15-20% of all accidents and 10-15% of all fatal accidents are related to maintenance operations. The same studies also found that occupational diseases and work-related health problems (e.g. asbestosis, cancer, hearing problems and musculoskeletal disorders) are prevalent among workers involved in maintenance activities, with industrial maintenance employees having an 8-10 times greater chance of developing an occupational disease than the average population.
The HSE has also raised concerns as to human error in maintenance, suggesting that “human errors in servicing and repair can render unavailable those systems needed for safety reasons or could introduce faults that make the equipment unsafe”. With health and safety risks being present in various aspects of maintenance, the need to integrate occupational health and safety management into overall maintenance management is clear.
Maintenance for health and safety
BS 8210 Guide to Facilities Maintenance Management notes that “a well-defined facilities maintenance strategy supports the organisation’s goals, whereas a poorly defined or absent strategy could have significant adverse safety and commercial consequences for an organisation”.
The principal objective of the strategy is to identify and assess the methods of maintenance necessary to meet legislative, best practice or policy requirements. The key elements of the strategy and policy itself may include:
- Specifying the minimum requirements for the management of maintenance
- Ensuring that physical assets are adequately maintained
- Ensuring that risks are effectively managed
- Ensuring that health and safety requirements are met
- Ensuring that the necessary information is available to manage maintenance.
Health and safety requirements will be one of the influences on the types of maintenance that is to be undertaken so as to ensure all plant and equipment is maintained in a state of good repair and efficient working order, thereby eliminating or reducing risks of unwanted events. In this context, “efficient” is from the view of health, safety and welfare rather than productivity or economy.
The maintenance strategy selected depends largely on the type of physical assets and the tasks the assets are being asked to perform. As well as specific recommendations in legislation and standards, most manufacturers will recommend certain maintenance procedures to the purchaser and these should be adopted unless operating conditions dictate otherwise, as identified through a risk assessment. Indeed, BS 8210 recommends that an organisation should assess risks and other hazards at all stages in a facility’s life cycle and implement a formal system of risk management, including establishing and maintaining a risk register as part of the maintenance strategy.
The risk assessment process will be able to assist in identifying maintenance needs, taking into account factors such as the environment the equipment is used in, its age, the operating processes (and variety of processes), the intensity of use and previous maintenance history, as these can influence the maintenance procedures to be adopted. From the initial assessment of maintenance needs, organisations can adopt a number of regimes based upon:
- Planned maintenance, including preventative and shutdown maintenance
- Preventative maintenance, which can be condition-based or reliability-centred
- Unplanned maintenance (corrective, breakdown or emergency).
Health and safety during maintenance
While undertaking any of the previously mentioned maintenance regimes, health and safety must be given consideration and built into the overall maintenance operational planning. Factors to consider are:
- The scope of the task (what needs to be done and what its effect will be)
- Risk assessing to identify and analyse hazards
- Risk control through adoption of safe systems of work, permit-to-work systems and working in “downtime”, etc
- Time and resource requirements to undertake maintenance safely
- Communication requirements between the various stakeholders
- Competence and training requirements of those undertaking the activities and managing the work.
As with all work activities, a risk assessment should be undertaken to identify the hazards associated with the planned maintenance work, who might be at risk of harm (e.g. maintenance personnel, occupants, visitors, passers-by and trespassers) and what risk control measures can be adopted to eliminate or reduce the risks from the hazards. The risk control method adopted will include the use of physical segregation through guarding and fencing, as well as the development and use of method statements, safe systems of work, and permit-to-work schemes. Other risk control measures will include:
- Using the most appropriate tools and personal protective equipment
- Working to the plan under appropriate supervision and to agreed timescales
- Ensuring contingency arrangements are developed for unwanted or unexpected situations
- Ensuring all relevant parties are made aware that the maintenance activities are taking place, including timescales, control measures, etc.
Competence and training are essential for ensuring relevant health and safety procedures are followed and for ensuring that the actual maintenance activities are completed, so as not to create risks through poor quality workmanship and/or human error.
The OSHA emphasises that “employers need to ensure that workers have the skills that they need to carry out the necessary tasks, are informed about safe work procedures, and know what to do when a situation exceeds their competence”. To assist in the prevention of human error during maintenance, the HSE has produced various guidance documents that are free to download from its website.
It is inevitable that many maintenance tasks will be outsourced to contractors with specialist skills and knowledge. As such, it is important for organisations to understand the full maintenance requirements, and the capability and capacity required to deliver these services by contractors. These should then be built into the relevant due diligence and service specification requirements utilised when appointing contractors.
It is where contractors are used that the organisation should be setting out clear roles, responsibilities and lines of communication with all interested parties so as to ensure maintenance activities are undertaken, with health and safety being an integral part of the overall management approach.