Last reviewed 22 July 2021

The maintenance of workplace facilities is essential to eliminate hazards and to ensure a safe working environment. Mike Sopp advises how to establish an effective maintenance regime.

According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (OSHA), “regular maintenance has an important role in eliminating workplace hazards and providing safer and healthier working conditions” but that “lack of maintenance or inadequate maintenance can cause serious and deadly accidents or health problems”.

Not only does a maintenance regime help to control workplace hazards, it also makes good business sense, as well-maintained facilities are more productive.

However, according to the British Standards Institution (BSI), a poorly defined strategy and facilities maintenance programme could have “significant adverse safety and commercial consequences” for an organisation.

BSI published a revised version of BS 8210 Facilities Maintenance Management. Code of Practice in late 2020. This publication offers a method to ensure that safety requirements are built into the overall facilities maintenance management regime.

Maintenance and safety hazards

Maintenance can be defined as the combination of all technical and administrative actions (including supervision) intended to restore an item to, or maintain it in, a state in which it can perform a required function.

The deterioration of physical assets due to the lack of maintenance can clearly have significant health and safety consequences for an organisation, including:

  • serious harm to building occupiers by exposure to various physical, chemical or biological hazards

  • loss of physical assets through breakage

  • loss of time, reputation and morale due to accident investigations and enforcement authority prohibitions

  • financial losses through potential fees for intervention, prosecution, civil claims and replacement of assets, loss of productivity, etc.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has stated that unsafe maintenance is the cause of many fatalities and serious injuries either during the undertaking of the maintenance activity itself or through using badly maintained equipment.

The HSE has also raised concerns regarding to human error in maintenance, suggesting that “human errors in servicing and repair can render unavailable systems needed for safety reasons or could introduce faults that make the equipment unsafe”.

Legal requirements

Together with workplace safety and protection of assets, legal requirements are a key driver for ensuring facilities, including items of plant and equipment, are well-maintained. There are many pieces of health and safety legislation that make reference to maintenance.

As well as the general requirements under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974, regulation 5 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 requires the workplace and any equipment, devices and systems to be maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair and, where appropriate, “be subject to a suitable system of maintenance”.

A similar requirement is contained in regulation 5 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The accompanying guidance states that “for maintenance to be effective it needs to be targeted at the parts of work equipment where failure or deterioration could lead to health and safety risks”.

As risks to health and safety occur across the various aspects of maintenance, it is obvious that occupational health and safety management needs to be factored into an organisation’s overall maintenance management.

Maintenance strategy and policy

BS8210:2020 Facilities Maintenance Management. Code of Practice is a fully revised version. BSI notes the principal changes as:

  • using a business-focused or risk-based process for determining maintenance requirements

  • changing the British Standard from a guide to a code of practice

  • giving greater consideration of building, fire and water safety and environmental factors on maintenance

  • highlighting the importance of risk assessment in determining how these factors might impact maintenance strategies, policies and plans

  • consideration of how developments in technology affect assets and the maintenance management process.

The British Standard provides recommendations including “highlighting the necessity of regular and planned maintenance to safeguard the safety, health and wellbeing of users” and “highlighting relevant areas of importance with regard to occupational health and safety and information management”.

In summary, the standard addresses safety issues that may occur as a result of poor maintenance strategies and policies as well as potential health and safety hazards during operational maintenance activities.

The maintenance strategy selected depends largely on the type of physical assets and the tasks the assets are being asked to perform. As well as specific recommendations in legislation and standards, most manufacturers will recommend certain maintenance procedures to the purchaser and these should be adopted unless operating conditions dictate otherwise as identified through a risk assessment.

Indeed, BS 8210 recommends that an organisation should assess risks and other hazards at all stages in a facility’s lifecycle and implement a formal system of risk management, including establishing and maintaining a risk register as part of the maintenance strategy.

The risk assessment process will be able to help identify maintenance needs, taking into account factors such as the environment the equipment is used in, its age, the operating processes (and variety of processes), the intensity of use and previous maintenance history as these can influence the maintenance procedures to be adopted.

Safety and operational maintenance

Facilities maintenance planning should “take explicit account of the safety, health and wellbeing of maintenance personnel and users”.

Poorly managed maintenance activities and procedures raise the risks of workplace accidents, including fatal accidents. It is estimated that in Europe 10–15% of fatal accidents and 15–20% of all accidents at work can be attributed to maintenance operations.

Of greatest concern is the potential for long-term ill-health problems. Scientific studies indicate that occupational diseases and work-related health problems (eg asbestosis, cancer, hearing problems and musculoskeletal disorders) are prevalent among workers involved in maintenance activities. Industrial maintenance employees have an 8–10 times greater chance of developing an occupational disease than the average population.

Clause 7 of BS8210 contains more detailed information in respect of this requirement. Factors to consider for safety during operational maintenance are:

  • the scope of the task (what needs to be done and what its effect will be)

  • risk assessing to identify and analyse hazards

  • risk control through adoption of safe systems of work, permit-to-work systems and working in “downtime”, etc

  • time and resource requirements to undertake maintenance safely

  • communication requirements between the various stakeholders

  • competence and training requirements of those undertaking the activities and managing the work.

The risk control method adopted will include the use of physical segregation through guarding and fencing, as well as the development and use of method statements, safe systems of work and permit-to-work schemes.

Other risk control measures will include:

  • using the most appropriate tools and personal protective equipment

  • working to the plan under appropriate supervision and to agreed time-scales

  • ensuring contingency arrangements are developed for unwanted or unexpected situations

  • ensuring all relevant parties are made aware of the maintenance activities taking place, including time-scales, control measures, etc.

Conclusion

Taking a holistic approach to health and safety as part of an overall facility maintenance management programme will ensure that safety matters are addressed throughout the asset’s lifecycle.

Standards such as BS8210 will support an organisation in preventing unwanted incidents due to lack of appropriate maintenance and also ensure safety management during operational maintenance procedures.

A well-thought-through strategy and policy will identify and assess the methods of maintenance necessary to meet legislative, best practice and other requirements. The key elements of the strategy and policy itself may include:

  • specifying the minimum requirements for the management of maintenance

  • ensuring that physical assets are adequately maintained

  • ensuring that risks are effectively managed

  • ensuring that health and safety requirements are met

  • ensuring that the necessary information is available to manage maintenance.

The provision of good information is key to the overall management of maintenance. Organisations should ensure they have access to all relevant information as part of a facility handbook.

Further information

  • BS8210:2020 Facilities Maintenance Management. Code of Practice, BSI.

  • Maintenance, OSH Wiki, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

  • Safe maintenance, Health and Safety Executive.