Managing maintenance safety

By Craig Carlyle, director at Maintenance Transformations

An awkward gap exists between our health and safety responsibilities and the reality in many traditional maintenance workshops across the country.

Our responsibilities extend to maintenance departments having safe work instructions for reasonably predictable maintenance tasks, and safe work tools such as JSA’s for unplanned events. The theory is entirely sensible; if our experience shows that dangers exist in a task, we need to pass that learning onto the next person to keep them safe. If we are scheduling maintenance activities, then surely, we should include the safe work instructions in that schedule.

In fact, MBIE and WorkSafe see it as a no-brainer, with a (perhaps rose tinted) expectation that this is the norm in the industrial world.

The reality is far removed from that, with too few seriously including pre-prepared safe work instructions into planned work packs. If your maintenance department can claim to be doing this, good on you, but our machine safety auditing across New Zealand reveals that most traditional workshops have their heads buried firmly in the sand. While they may be aware of the dangers if pushed, the answers reside in heads or are passed on by word of mouth at the best. It’s all too hard.

The issue is even more prevalent if the maintenance department is not using maintenance planning systems. Modern computerised maintenance management systems enable the bundling of task resources against a planned preventative maintenance task. These resources can include safe work instructions, permits, JSA’s etc. The capability exists in these systems but often comprehension and application take a back seat.

Whatever your 3-letter acronym for your safe work instrument (SWP, SOP, JEH, JSA, etc) the intent should be to highlight the known potential hazards in the task and lay out the controls required to protect the worker. Check your safe work instruments carefully to ensure that they do in fact address these basic requirements.

Being confronted by the need to document safe work instructions for every maintenance task can be a daunting task, the nett result being to bury your head deeper in the sand. There is however a simpler path to take; set yourself the task of addressing the safe work instructions one at a time, as you tackle each planned maintenance task. Draft out the instructions prior to the task and review after the event. Involve your tradesmen before and afterwards. Frame the dialogue as understanding what they need to be safe, and what learning they wish to pass on to the next person. Before you know it, you will have a working set of documents, your confidence will be up, and you will be well on the path to a compliant maintenance role.

Craig Carlyle is director at Maintenance Transformations. His expertise lies in the practical application of maintenance and health and safety management systems in the workplace. He is also a life member of the Maintenance Engineering Society of NZ.

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Xpress Engineer NZ, NZ Engineering News or the parent company, Hayley Media.