Back to Safety Articles Main Page

Worker Safety and Maintenance

What's the relationship between keeping people safe and keeping equipment is safe? Does better maintenance really yield better safety? That's the topic of today's Advisor.

There are three types of maintenance:

  • Routine or preventive maintenance is conducted to keep equipment working and/or extend its life. An example is a scheduled overhaul or replacement.
  • Corrective maintenance gets broken equipment up and running again.
  • Predictive maintenance involves the use of various types of tests to indicate that maintenance is or will soon be needed.

There are risks for employees working on or near improperly maintained equipment or in poorly maintained facilities. Many accidents, including machine incidents and slips, trips, and falls, are the result of a lack of maintenance or poor quality maintenance.

But there are also risks to those who perform workplace maintenance. The Scottish safety organization Healthy Working Lives estimates that in Great Britain between 25% and 30% of all manufacturing deaths are linked to maintenance activity.

According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics job fatality report, deaths in this category in the United States were up 14% in 2011, the highest level since 2006.

Among the reported risks:

  • Falls from working at heights.
  • Confined spaces or harsh environments associated with accessing equipment.
  • Shocks and burns if power is not properly isolated.
  • Injuries from moving machine parts.
  • Musculoskeletal problems related to exerting force or working in awkward spaces
  • Exposure to asbestos, chemicals, dust, and excessive noise.

Clearly, those who perform maintenance tasks in the workplace to protect other workers need protection themselves in the form of training, safe work procedures, protective equipment, and the cooperation of other employees, supervisors, and management.

What Can You Do?

How can you make your maintenance activities safer and more productive in terms of cost savings and improved workplace safety?

Dale Ekmark, senior consultant for the global maintenance consultation firm IDCON emphasizes focusing on the basics and offers the following tips:

  • Emphasize planning and scheduling on every maintenance task. Maintenance that is planned and schedules is by nature less risky than middle-of-the-night emergency repairs.
  • Invest in affordable technology such as a thermographic camera (around $1,000). These cameras are used to detect variations of temperature that can reveal when a machine motor is not running properly.
  • Make sure leaders consistently convey the right message. Employees need to be told the accidents happen as a result of short cuts, such as failing to lock out a piece of equipment before performing maintenance.
  • Teach workers to intervene. If someone walks by a piece of equipment that's making an unusual noise and fails to inform a supervisor, it's the same as ignoring a co-worker who is working unsafely.
  • Get employees engaged and accountable. This can lead to culture change in which safety is part of everything that's done at the plant, not solely the responsibility of the safety and maintenance departments.
NEXT