Regular maintenance is essential to keep premises, equipment, machines and the work environment safe and reliable. It helps to eliminate workplace hazards. Lack of maintenance or inadequate maintenance can lead to dangerous situations, accidents and health problems. It is important that a planned maintenance programme is in place and that all maintenance work is risk assessed before beginning the task.
Maintenance simply means keeping the workplace and its structure safe and enables the equipments, machines, furniture and facilities to operate safely and properly. Also make sure that the maintenance work does not decline the condition of workplace, machines, equipments and other facilities.
Importance of Regular Maintenance
Regular maintenance helps in reducing the hazards at workplace but maintenance itself is a high-risk activity. It is estimated that around 8-15% of all fatal accidents and 15-20% of all accidents at workplace are related to maintenance operations as shown in the graph. Scientific studies indicate that occupational diseases and work related health problems such as asbestosis, cancer, hearing problems and musculoskeletal disorders are also more prevalent among workers involved in maintenance activities.
Physical Hazards- Workers are exposed to excessive noise caused by machinery, equipment’s or vehicles during maintenance work. Excessive noise can result in hearing impairment, hearing loss or tinnitus, sleeping disorders, gastric ulcers and increased blood pressure.
Ergonomic Hazards- While doing maintenance there could be many working conditions that put strain on a worker’s body and can result in ergonomic hazard. It is a physical factor within the environment that harms the musculoskeletal system of a worker.
Chemical Hazards- Workers can be exposed to chemical hazards while doing maintenance work in industries, such as the chemical industry, construction and agriculture, and also during performing tasks like maintenance work on buildings, roads, machinery, electric arc welding etc.
Biological Hazards- Biological hazards refer to micro organisms or organic matters produced by these organisms that are harmful to human health by causing infections, allergies or poisoning.
Psychosocial Hazards- Workers may experience stress caused by the nature of the maintenance work.
Benefits of Regular Maintenance
Safety from Chemical Exposure
- Exposure to chemical substances occurs during maintenance of pipes, machines, etc.
- For the safety from chemical exposure the administrators should substitute the dangerous substance used in the process by a hazard free or less dangerous one.
- By setting up safe system of work and by introducing safe work practices to the workers can also reduce chemical exposure possibilities.
- Use blind discs during dismantling while emptying or flushing chemical storage tanks and pipes.
- Ensure the use of appropriate personal protective equipment during maintenance work which will help the workers to get protection from chemical exposure.
Unexpected start-up of machines
To prevent unexpected start-up of machines following suggestions should be followed:
- Purchase, design or manufacture machines which are not only in accordance with the requirements but are safe to operate and maintain.
- Make sure that machines have a stop mechanism or isolation switch so that it is impossible for the machine to start while work is underway.
- Develop and apply safe systems of work. Before staring maintenance the workers must have permits to work and lock off procedures to control potentially hazardous activities.
- Administrators must make sure that safe systems of work must be properly communicated and understood by the workers.
- All machines should be tagged if they must not to be used or switched on while work is underway.
- This requirement should be communicated not only to workers performing maintenance tasks but also to all other employees in the area. It should be included in the safety training.
Knowledge & Awareness to workers
- Lack of knowledge and awareness of safety issues among workers performing maintenance work increase the risks to the safety of workers.
- There is a legal obligation for employers to provide information and training on health and safety to all employees who need it including temporary staff and contractors.
- Different maintenance work has different range of risks associated with it. So, in addition to the necessary professional skills, maintenance workers should also be informed about the hazards related to specific jobs and about the safe working procedures.
- Workers should be involved in the risk assessment process and the development of preventive measures.
- They should be trained to perform maintenance tasks safely.
- Physical strains generally caused by lifting, loading, pushing and pulling the items.
- Following are the suggested actions to reduce the possibility of physical strains:
- Design or purchase equipment and introduce work practices that eliminate or reduce physical strain. For example the handle of hand held tool must be designed in order to provide a proper and safe hand grip.
- Provide workers who have to lift or move heavy loads, with a hoist, or with other lifting or transporting equipment to eliminate the chances of physical strain by manual handling.
- Minimize carrying distances. The distance should not be more than 100 meters otherwise use an automatic system to carry the load.
- Ensure that there is enough space to do the work.
- In addition to ergonomically designed tools, a worker should have good body postures which will eliminate the musculoskeletal disorders. So, provide training to workers on how to perform maintenance work ergonomically.
Working at Height
- Workers suffer from hazards like fall from height, physical strain etc. while working at height or climbing structures.
- To prevent from height hazards consider maintenance in the design phase of workplace.
- Ensure that where appropriate an edge protection system is in place to prevent the workers against fall from height.
- Make sure that workers climbing and working at height are secured and protected against falls at all times. For example, a guardrail system can be provided as the primary means of fall protection. If a guardrail system cannot be installed the employer should provide adequate protection to protect the worker from a fall.
- If possible use mechanical lift device or an elevating work platform to eliminate the need to climb manually at height.
- Make workers aware of the danger and make sure that they understand the importance of the protective equipment they have to wear. All PPEs must be properly maintained.