The latest EUROSTAT data on workplace accidents is from 2006. At the time, 15 to 20% of all accidents at work and 10 to 15% of fatal accidents were maintenance related. Despite the outdated data, experience tells us that maintenance is still a risky activity. Therefore, it continues to be useful to talk about prevention, control, and risk assessment.
How to prevent risk in maintenance?
All buildings and all industries need maintenance. But, although the need for maintenance is universal, each work order has unique risks and specificities. No two facilities or buildings are the same! In addition, working under pressure to fix a breakdown as quickly as possible can cause technicians to take unnecessary risks.
UK and European legislation require employers to ensure health and safety conditions at work. Although there are various ways of assessing risk, the SOBANE strategy (Screening, Observation, Analyse, and Expertise) is one of the most recommended in Europe for its simplicity and efficiency.
How to do a SOBANE risk assessment?
The SOBANE strategy has two principles:
- Many health and safety problems can be solved by the workers and there is no need to hire external consultants.
- However, this ‘bottom-up’ structure must be methodical. Habits need to be developed and tools made available so that workers can do this in a consistent and structured way.
Then, as the acronym indicates, the SOBANE strategy is divided into four levels of implementation:
- Screening, in which risk factors are identified from simple observations and the most obvious solutions are implemented. In-depth knowledge of the working conditions is required, but not about safety and hygiene.
- Observation, where staff make a qualitative observation when detecting a problem and explore it further.
- Analysis, where a “prevention consultant” makes a quantitative assessment and develops a special solution to the problem.
- Expertise, in rare cases for which it is indispensable to hire an expert to study and solve the problem. In-depth knowledge of the job is not required, but of the safety at work regulations.
Such an approach has advantages because it gets the workers involved in the risk analysis. Therefore, it results in practical measures, legitimised, and accepted by the team. This acceptance makes it more likely that they will identify risks in the future and submit their proposals, according to several case studies [available from OSHA].
👉 Click here to see an example of a risk assessment for maintenance work in a factory.
How to use a risk assessment in maintenance?
The SOBANE analysis divides the risks into 15 categories: social facilities, machines and hand tools, safety (accidents, falls, slips…), electric risks, explosions or fire hazards, working with VDU, musculoskeletal disorders, lighting, noise, thermal environments, dangerous chemicals, biological agents, whole body vibration, hand-arm vibration, and psychosocial aspects.
Based on your track record, choose all those that apply in your company. From there, organise a risk analysis in a table where you identify the risk and the respective preventive actions (following the implementation levels we explained above). At Infraspeak, you can use the Gatekeeper app to create a short checklist before each work order and make sure technicians are aware of all risks.
Common risks in maintenance and best practices
Below, we list some of the most recurring hazards in maintenance and some actions you can take to avoid them:
- Site unfamiliarity or lack of experience with the procedure.
Maintenance professionals can suffer accidents when they are unfamiliar with the workplace or how to best perform the job.
If you outsource several maintenance tasks, it is recommended that you share your risk analysis with the supplier and that the area manager accompanies the technician during the visit.
- Tripping or slipping.
Work accidents sometimes occur due to slippery floors or obstacles in the way. It is important that the maintenance and cleaning staff wear non-slip shoes, that the area to be intervened is well lit, and that oil or other liquid slips are cleaned up immediately.
If you use a checklist for risk analysis before each job, one of the questions should always be “is the area clear”, “is the floor clean and not slippery”.
- Means of transportation on site.
In very large infrastructures, such as airports, factory complexes, or transport networks, maintenance technicians can be run over by vehicles.
In such cases, it is necessary to mark all routes clearly, inform the supplier of the safety rules, and wear high visibility vests. You can reinforce the safety measures to the technician before the visit.
- Heavy objects.
Transporting heavy objects carries risks. Fortunately, you can avoid most of these accidents by training staff to move heavy objects. If you use forklift trucks, the HSE safety leaflets on how to use a lift truck safely and rider-operated lift truck are a good guide.
- Working at height.
Working at height, to work on facades or roofs, can result in heavy falls and fatal work accidents. We reinforce the importance of using approved scaffolding and checking the condition of ladders, work platforms, and other materials before work.
Consult the HSE guide on scaffolding.
- Noise in the workplace.
Maintenance technicians are often exposed to high levels of noise that can not only lead to hearing loss but also make work difficult. In these cases, you should include ear protectors in your personal protective gear kit.
- Electrocution and moving machinery.
Working with electricity or machinery that is in operation carries several risks. It is important that all staff are familiar with LOTO procedures to avoid accidents.
Again, we remind you that you can put questions such as “is the equipment fully switched off”, “are there fire extinguishers on site”, and “is there a barrier preventing unauthorised access” on your checklist.
- Exposure to asbestos and toxic substances.
According to a 2015 study, 1 in 3 Europeans are exposed to asbestos at work. In such cases, it is essential that technicians have adequate protective gear and learn how to remove waste.