10 Dec 2019

The 5 golden rules of safe maintenance

The chapter “Maintenance” is an integral part of operating instructions. In the case of extensive regular work, the machine often even comes with its own maintenance instructions. Components must be oiled or checked at a weekly basis in accordance with the maintenance schedule.

It can be dangerous, especially if these components are located in the safety area and protective devices such as enclosures have to be disabled. But maintenance can also be safe – if the manufacturer and the operator follow the following 5 golden rules and work together:

hazard assessment1. Hazard assessment
The operating company of a machine is obliged in accordance with the Industrial Safety Regulation to carry out a risk assessment at every workplace regularly and on a case-by-case basis. As the sentence already explains, the assessment must not end with normal operation. If the operator carries out the maintenance himself, the employer must check whether, for example, the operator is sufficiently protected against toxic vapors from paint or uncontrolled movements. The employer should pay particular attention to the experience and expertise of the operator. This is because an operator carries out maintenance work less frequently and possibly less routinely than a maintenance technician, which in principle increases the risk potential. Of course, the employer must also assess and evaluate the hazards for specially trained maintenance personnel and, if necessary, introduce safe working procedures.

2. Risk assessment
We have already sufficiently explained in previous blog articles that a machine should be designed to be as safe as possible. How manufacturers can achieve a safe machine by means of a well conducted risk assessment is also explained. An essential point of a good risk assessment is the consideration of all life stages, including maintenance. If the manufacturer already specifies hazards when using the solvent in the operating instructions on the basis of his risk assessment and supplies the corresponding safety data sheet in the appendix, manufacturers and employers can work hand in hand to protect operators and maintenance personnel. The employer learns that the operator can protect himself from the dangers of the solvent by wearing breath protection masks and protective gloves and adopts this information in the operating instructions for the personnel.

3. Secured work area loto procedures at a clients factory
Sudden movements of machine components can cost the maintenance technician his life. Many an employee found a sad end to his life under lifting devices that suddenly lowered or under falling robot arms. A tragedy for relatives and often a scandal with financial consequences for employers and manufacturers. For safe maintenance, there is the so-called LOTO procedure (Lock Out Tag Out). LOTO is used to find and define a way to safely disconnect energy sources. To do this, the hazardous energy sources must first be identified in all life stages. As soon as these have been determined, the permanent disconnection of energy is ensured by suitable aids such as padlocks on valves. The complete process is documented in the LOTO manual and presented to all participants. Practical exercises lead to safe handling.

4. Choosing the right protective device
The effectiveness of protective devices must be checked at regular intervals. This is already regulated by the Directive on the Use of Work Equipment. Contactless protective devices such as light barriers, light grids or light curtains are also covered by this directive. These regular checks are necessary because only intact protective devices can stop dangerous movements quickly and reliably and thus protect the operator and fellow personnel. The operator must ensure that this maintenance is carried out regularly and that defective components are replaced. In addition, the operator must provide the required personal protective equipment (PPE). This is especially true for maintenance personnel, since maintenance personnel face more frequent exposure to hazardous substances or hot components as a result of their work. Which PPE personnel is required to wear during work and which tools are needed to carry out that particular work are described both in the operating instructions for the machine and in the LOTO concept.

5. Human error
Last but not least, the weakest link in the chain must be considered: The human being. The best working instructions cannot help the maintenance worker if he does not comply with them. If the staff ignores the requirement to wear a safety helmet or hearing protection, or if entire work steps to secure the machine are omitted due to lack of time, this can have serious consequences. This makes the safe design of the machine all the more important. If a safety area can only be entered as soon as the machine is switched off, many risk factors are already avoided during maintenance work. Furthermore, the operator must always monitor his employees and ensure that the rules are followed – also by allowing enough time for maintenance. Regular training of personnel and inspection of maintenance work are important components for safe handling – even outside normal operation.

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