The pressure to reduce UK plant downtime is threatening health and safety during maintenance according to 34% of maintenance professionals in a new study.
The research was completed among 176 maintenance engineers and managers by MAINTEC, the UK’s only show dedicated to industrial maintenance and asset management, which takes place from 5-7 March at the NEC, Birmingham.
The study suggests that while health and safety is a big priority for 85% of organisations, with 63% saying is couldn’t be any more important, it is coming under pressure. The drive to reduce plant downtime is a key factor with over a third believing this is compromising UK companies’ health and safety in general, and a significant 23%, saying it is an issue in their own companies. A further 24% argue that maintenance is a source of many accidents because unrealistic time pressures are placed on projects. The recession is also taking its toll, with a more modest 11% arguing that cuts are compromising health and safety.
Although time pressure is a key issue, according to 47% of the maintenance engineers studied, maintenance is so hazardous in the first place because it is often outside the normal routine, 34% say it is because it involves outside contractors who operate to different standards while almost one in four (24%) feel it’s because their own staff don’t have a health and safety mindset or according to over one in five (21%) they cut corners.
This poor worker attitude to health and safety appears to affect a significant minority. For instance 21% say the general perception among employees in their company is that health and safety makes their job harder, 13% see it as a necessary evil and 5% as a fuss about nothing. However a heartening 49% say the general attitude is that health and safety is a good source of protection for workers, and over half (52%) say their workforce views health and safety as really important.
The MAINTEC study also throws light on the biggest sources of accidents during maintenance. When thinking of the places they have worked the maintenance professionals report that the biggest practical risks have been falls from height (51%), disturbing asbestos (47%), heavy falling objects (46%) and failing to follow isolation procedures (45%). Not briefing external contractors properly has been a major health and safety risk for 47%, failing to issue work permits is cited by 50% while 38% say an issue has been simply outside contractors not knowing the operation as well as day-to-day staff.
Despite these challenges, many companies have made some good progress with 36% seeing a decrease in maintenance-related accidents in the past year. However 6% have seen accidents increase and 37% have not seen their record improve.
Whatever their performance, almost all companies have improving health and safety as a priority. Their reasons for doing this are mixed. The top driver is corporate social responsibility (36%), followed by a need to reduce accidents (15%), respond to pressure from the board (11%) or improve staff productivity and efficiency (11%). Unions appear to be exerting limited influence in this area; not a single maintenance professional said unions were the biggest driver for greater health and safety in their organisation.
With health and safety a major and enduring issue within maintenance, easyFairs, the organisers of MAINTEC 2013, have decided to expand the HAZEX area of this year’s show. Jake Morrison, MAINTEC event manager, explains:
"The worlds of health and safety and maintenance are inextricably linked, which is why we have responded by developing this aspect of the show. As our research shows, improving health and safety during maintenance touches upon many issues such as worker training, dealing with contractors, setting proper project timescales and anticipating high risk situations. We are working hard to ensure the mix of content at MAINTEC, including of course the HAZEX area, gives maintenance professionals, production personnel and plant and asset managers plenty of opportunities to learn from other companies, see the latest technologies and hear from the UK’s top hazard prevention experts."
Sira Test & Certification Ltd (a CSA Group company) is supporting HAZEX. In addition to promoting its services within the specialist hazardous area of the show, Sira will run one of the 38 special, free-to-attend learnShops that will be running throughout MAINTEC.