Safe maintenance is the focus of this year’s European Week for Safety and Health at Work (24 -28 October 2011), which is organised by the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA). EU-OHSA was set up by the European Union and is the main EU reference point for safety and health at work.
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 eliminating workplace hazards and providing safer and healthier working conditions. Insufficient/inadequate maintenance can cause serious (and potentially deadly) accidents or health problems.
At the same time, however, maintenance is a high-risk activity, which 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. EU data has shown that outsourcing maintenance work increases the risk of accidents occurring. It is estimated that around 15-20% (depending on the country) of all accidents and 10-15% of all fatal accidents are related to maintenance operations (EUROSTAT data).
The work should be planned and a risk assessment should be carried out before any maintenance work is begun. Workers should be involved in this 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.
Employers can get more information on how they can ensure that maintenance work is performed safely in their organisation by calling the Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44.