Maintaining safety in the workplace

Accidents should not be part of any operational procedure but a diminishing awareness of the potential hazards of performing maintenance is making it part of the routine. Katherine Crichton reports.

Accidents should not be part of any operational procedure but a diminishing awareness of the potential hazards of performing maintenance is making it part of the routine. Katherine Crichton reports.

PLANT and machinery maintenance is usually performed to achieve improved operational efficiencies and safer working conditions, but this is not always the case.

In Victoria alone, almost 60% of reported plant-related safety incidents for the manufacturing sector relate to maintenance activities, and according to WorkSafe Victoria Industry Program Director, Trevor Martin, many incidents occur when a variety of maintenance work, including routine cleaning, is carried out.

“We are not talking about people with a disregard for safety but those who have a blind spot to the risks associated with maintenance-related work.

“Many manufacturers will have considered OHS and safety systems in their work processes but maintenance work tends to override these just because of the nature of the duties – people need to go in and fix things,” Martin explained.

“Systems that exist to protect people tend to be side-lined or there is not sufficient attention paid to lock out and tag out procedures. Sometimes parts of the equipment may be still be functioning as repair work is being carried out on other areas of the machine,” he said.

“Sometimes it is the safety system itself that is undergoing maintenance.”

With around 30% of the workforce engaged in support roles involving some part of maintenance such as service or cleaning, Martin attributes accidents and injuries not to a lack of skills but a diminishing knowledge-base.

“A basic awareness of the potential hazards seems to be missing,” he told Manufacturers Monthly.

“There needs to be a return to basics — planning and supervision. Many incidents that we see have had a lack of consistency and attention to detail. People apply their own interpretation of procedures to operations and are not defaulting to safety in all situations. That is essential,” Martin said.

“Getting maintenance and cleaning safety right will prevent injuries, unscheduled shutdowns of operations and all the potential costs that come from it.”

Investing in prevention

Everyone knows that prevention is better than a cure, but while many agree that this is a good approach, many are reluctant to put their money where their mouth is.

Richard Kaesler, engineering manager with Saxon Engineering, says a major obstacle for maintenance is the perceived cost of performing plant and machinery maintenance, particularly preventative work.

“Money spent on maintenance can be hard to justify on a quantifiable ROI. You are spending for a future that may, or may not happen.”

Kaesler said some manufacturers underestimate the benefits of performing regular maintenance throughout the year, preferring to stick with the old culture of shutting down during Christmas time.

“However larger companies are beginning to schedule maintenance throughout the year; over a long weekend, for example, they are finding it much easier to get spare parts.”

Kaesler advises before any maintenance system is implemented, a risk analysis should be performed.

“There are many different types of maintenance systems, program, condition, redundancy etc and a risk assessment is needed to know which best suits their business.

“Factors like utilisation, uniqueness of equipment, alternative solutions, allowable downtime, history and potential outcomes of failures all need to be considered,” Kaesler said.

Managing maintenance

Asset management is an important part of any business and now the same technology that can help track products is proving to be a valuable tool for maintenance.

David Powell, MD of Third City Solutions, says with CMMS (Computerised Maintenance Management Systems) companies can schedule work, assign preventative maintenance, record regular inspections, prepare unscheduled jobs and keep record of all the maintenance work that has already been completed.

“CMMS software is now very robust and user friendly, with some applications based on familiar interfaces like Microsoft Outlook.

“Users can register all their plant equipment in the system, work requirements, who needs to do it (i.e. someone with a Class 2 licence) and what parts are required.”

Powell said with advances in technology such as wireless, CMMS software can now be used with PDAs so when people spot safety issues and problems they can immediately log them into the system.

“We have only just scratched the surface with CMMS systems in Australia, and worldwide. These programs even now have the ability to tell users lead times for parts etc so you can plan your maintenance to suit.”

“You can program scheduled alerts — one week in advance or even earlier if it is a critical piece of machinery.”

And if Martin, Kaesler and Powell had one key bit of advice for manufacturers when it comes to maintenance?

“One thing that I try and to tell our customers is that it takes a lot more money and time to fix a breakdown than it does to perform routine maintenance,” Powell explains.

“You reduce your breakdowns and lost downtime by keeping your preventative maintenance up.”