Regular maintenance of equipment is an important and necessary activity. The term ‘maintenance’ covers many activities, including inspection, testing, measurement, replacement and adjustment, and is carried out in all sectors and workplaces. It has a vital role to play in reducing the risk associated with some workplace hazards and providing safer and healthier working conditions. Insufficient/inadequate maintenance can cause serious (and potentially deadly) accidents or health problems. PUWER (the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998) states that ‘all work equipment be maintained in an efficient state, in efficient order and in good repair.’ Machinery that has a maintenance log needs to be kept up to date and maintenance operations need to be carried out safely.
There are two types of maintenance: routine maintenance is planned and focuses on preventing future problems, while corrective maintenance is reactive and happens when equipment goes wrong and needs to be fixed.
Maintenance can be a high-risk activity. According to Healthy Working Lives, it is estimated that 25-30% of all manufacturing industry deaths in Britain result from maintenance activity. This activity is also associated with exposure to hazards that cause health problems such as respiratory diseases, musculoskeletal disorders and skin diseases. There can also be difficulties in accessing equipment that requires maintenance and this may require work at height or confined space entry.
Maintenance is also heavily subcontracted by organisations that consider maintenance to be a specialised activity which does not belong to their core business or which requires expertise not present in the company. In some environments, this may increase risk as the outsourced workers may be unfamiliar with the working environment.
A risk assessment should be carried out before any maintenance work begins and work should be planned. It is best practice to keep a maintenance log which is regularly updated. Workers should be involved in the risk assessment process as those carrying out a maintenance task are often in the best position to identify hazards and the most efficient ways of dealing with them. The work area should be made safe (e.g. preventing unauthorised access) and the people performing the maintenance work should be equipped with the proper tools and equipment to do the work safely (including personal protective equipment – PPE). The work should be monitored and safe working procedures need to be followed at all times. The process needs to end with checks to ensure that the job has been completed satisfactorily.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a useful checklist for carrying out safe maintenance. For more information on ensuring that maintenance work is performed safely and on a number of other work-related health issues, explore the Fit for Work advice hub or call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English) or 0800 032 6233 (Cymraeg) to speak to a dedicated advisor. Those in Scotland can visit fitforworkscotland.scot or phone 0800 019 2211. (Manufacturers based in the West Midlands can access manufacturing-specific resources on the Fit for Work website.)