Regular maintenance equals greater worker safety.

How, you ask?

Well, improperly functioning machinery isn't just an inconvenience; it also puts workers at risk of injury… or worse.

Employees working on or near improperly maintained machines face a variety of risks, from machinery-related incidents, to slips, trips, and falls (learn more in Prevention: Slips, Trips, and Falls). Those employees are not the only ones at risk, though. The risk of injury extends to the workers responsible for repairing the machinery.

The most common injuries and fatalities linked to maintenance are:

  • Falls from heights
  • Accessing equipment in confined spaces or harsh environments
  • 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, or excessive noise

Maintenance and safety go hand-in-hand. When employers emphasize safety with regular training and by displaying motivational banners, it demonstrates to workers that they value their safety and want everyone to go home safe. Sending this message boosts morale and improves job satisfaction.

Maintenance Safety

Maintenance falls into three broad categories:

  • Routine or preventative maintenance keeps equipment working, helps it perform more efficiently, and extends its service life.
  • Corrective maintenance gets broken or improperly functioning machinery running again.
  • Predictive maintenance includes testing the equipment to determine if maintenance is needed, or will be needed soon.

But no matter the type of maintenance is being performed – including oil changes, filter replacements, and fitting repairs – precaution is required to ensure the procedures are done safely.

The following steps are essential, and skipping them is dangerous both for workers and the jobsite:

  • Maintenance procedures must be developed for all equipment, and should follow manufacturer recommendations.
  • Maintenance activities should be planned (even emergency repairs).
  • Maintenance workers must be trained on the equipment they’re working on.
  • Maintenance workers must be equipped with appropriate safety equipment, including gloves, eye protection, and hard hats (find out How to Choose the Right Safety Eyewear for Your Job).
  • All sources of electrical power to the equipment must be disconnected and tagged “OFF” to ensure the power is not turned on while work is being completed. It must also be isolated from all others on the same system, and a proper lockout/tagout device must be employed. Failure to do so can result in electric shock, electrocution, fire, or explosions.
  • Any hydraulic pressure must be released and the equipment is to be place in a relaxed position.
  • Any safety devices (machine guards, shields, and so on) removed during maintenance must be reinstalled before maintenance is complete.
  • Before the machine is put back into service, repair work should be inspected by a supervisor familiar with the equipment to ensure the maintenance is complete and the equipment has been properly reassembled.

Lockout/Tagout for Safety

Following a proper lockout/tagout procedure is especially important in facility maintenance (see Understanding Lockout/Tagout Safety to learn more).

It's easy to assume that a machine is safe once it's been shut down; however, that's not the case. Experienced safety professionals know that turning off or even unplugging a machine before maintenance, repair, or re-tooling just isn't enough.

Failing to adhere to lockout/tagout procedures can lead to the equipment being accidentally turned on while it's being serviced or repaired, which could result in electrocution, loss of digits or limbs, severe crushing injuries, and fatal injuries.

Lockout/Tagout Devices

Lockout and tagout devices must be the only devices used for controlling energy. These devices must not be used for other purposes. They must also be:

  • Durable – Able to withstand the environment to which they’re exposed
  • Standardized – In one or more ways, such as color, shape, or size
  • Identifiable – Must indicate which employee applied the device

Lockout/Tagout Mistakes

Straying from or completely ignoring your specific lockout procedure can have a devastating and tragic impact on maintenance staff. In order to ensure your safety and the safety of your co-workers:

  • Never assume that locking out the control circuit but not the main disconnect or switch is good enough
  • Never leave your key in the lock – you could lose it and destroy the intended protection
  • Never give your keys to a co-worker to shut off or lockout the equipment

The Importance of Recordkeeping

Logging inspections, maintenance, and repairs isn't just about checking boxes – it has benefits for operators and supervisors alike.

Recurring issues, like an elbow that continuously cracks, may require further investigation or a different repair method. You can easily see from a log book if a machine has been requiring more fluid than normal, possibly indicating that there is a leak in the hose. Recordkeeping allows you to identify these issues and find solutions ahead of time, which reduces machine downtime, helps with budgeting, and assists in overall scheduling and production.

Make Time for Safe Maintenance

It’s important to remember that, as the employer, it's your responsibility to provide training to ensure that maintenance workers understand the purpose and function of your maintenance program.

A well-planned maintenance program not only keeps equipment up and running, it also keeps everyone safer, reduces accidents, reduces lost work time, and increases productivity, especially when everyone involved takes the extra time of being thorough with every step in the process.