Maintenance: safety-critical, but risky in its own right

For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost… this timeless proverb is particularly relevant to the chemical industry, where neglecting minor, seemingly insignificant details can have major consequences.

Without regular maintenance, things will go wrong – but maintenance itself can be a high-risk activity. To avoid disastrous incidents and consequences, maintenance should be seen as a process rather than any single task.
The first step is to ensure the occupational health and safety of those who will perform the maintenance activity. Safe work procedures are important, and appropriate risk assessments must be done beforehand. The second process involves the safe, error-free execution of the task. The third process involves asset integrity and risk-based maintenance. The goal is for equipment failure to be prevented. This calls for sound maintenance decision-making, which in turn requires appropriate integration of risk information to maximise the ability of equipment to fulfil its purpose.
“Safe, well-planned maintenance is essential for eliminating hazards and managing risks in the workplace, and has a significant knock-on effect with regard to both occupational health and safety, and process safety,” says Louise Lindeque, manager of Responsible Care at the Chemical and Allied Industries’ Association (CAIA).
Lindeque adds that lack of regular maintenance can result in unscheduled downtime, production losses and damage to plant, machinery and equipment. Keeping everything in good working order by rectifying even minor repairs before they become major problems promotes the likelihood of consistent production, and saves money in the long term. More importantly, it helps prevent and mitigate safety incidents.
Responsible Care supports safe maintenance through a structured and integrated approach to such activity based on risk assessment, risk management and good planning before maintenance personnel even enter the workplace.
Those carrying out maintenance activities could be exposed to a range of physical, chemical, biological and psychological hazards. Working safely using appropriate equipment and the correct tools as well as wearing the correct personal protection equipment is of paramount importance. The work plan should be strictly followed and no shortcuts should be taken. After completion of the work and before signing off the job, checks must be made to ensure that maintenance procedures have been successfully completed. Communication should be in the form of complete written and signed reports documentation, not informal verbal handovers.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work is using its 2011 Healthy Workplaces campaign to put the spotlight on safe maintenance.

CAIA and Responsible Care
The Chemical and Allied Industries’ Association (CAIA) is the custodian in South Africa of Responsible Care – a global initiative by the chemical industry to continuously improve safety, health and environmental performance (SHE). Companies sign a voluntary pledge committing to the Guiding Principles of Responsible Care and are supported in implementing the Management Practice Standards (MPS). Their performances are audited by a CAIA head office team in Johannesburg. CAIA Responsible Care supports the International Year of Chemistry 2011. Visit the website

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