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How to maintain safety standards with plant and equipment

Unsafe plant and equipment can create hazards in your workplace that put your employees at risk.

Plant and equipment safety must not be overlooked in your workplace!

As a duty holder, you are obliged to:

  • identify hazards associated with plant and equipment in your workplace;
  • maintain plant and equipment in a safe condition; and
  • inform employees through training about how to work safely with the plant
    and equipment.

How to maintain safety standards with plant and equipment

Andrew Douglas, our Editor-in-Chief, has given us 8 priceless tips today on how to maintain safety when your employees are working with plant and equipment. His advice includes regular inspections, providing further training, being well-informed, and insisting on safety standards being upheld.

Plant and Equipment – The forgotten risk
By Andrew Douglas

I was speaking to a GM of safety recently and he had been working with a regulator on a joint project and felt comfortable he had all his ducks in a row with regard to the safety procedures at his company. He explained that he had:

  • state of the art policies and procedures;
  • a systematic training and induction process;
  • regular external/internal audit, review and inspections;
  • a patent reporting system through all layers of management and governance;
  • good consultative and communication structures and performance; and
  • an excellent return-to-work process with reducing LTIs (lost time injuries) every year for the prior 3 years.

What more could he want? When I asked the question “tell me about your review of wear and tear on plant and equipment – do you have replacement dates, review dates and regular inspections to determine it is safe?” he looked uncomfortable. He said, “We have regular inspections for hazards – any problem should be picked up.” He breathed in, looked around a bit furtively, and then said – “You’re right – this is our black hole. Operations and maintenance own this space and it is almost impossible to get traction!”

And he is right. This particular area of safety does fall between maintenance and operations. Maintenance is inclined to be “problem focused” based on productivity rather than safety. As a result, regular maintenance will be undertaken during shut down. That is to ensure the big items of production don’t stop during the productive cycle of the year. Maintenance is less inclined to look at its inventory of plant and equipment and determine when it should be renewed or reviewed based on age and use.

Things like pulleys, ropes, chains and other lifting apparatus are inclined to be used as needed. But no history is kept of the age or use of the parts even though they are used for lifting weights that place these parts and devices under significant strain.

In a recent County Court case, an employer, Silcar, was fined $475,000 as a result of a fatal incident when lifting gear failed causing the death of a worker. The Court found, among other things, that the employer failed to maintain the equipment in a safe condition. So what should you do?

How to maintain safety standards with plant and equipment

  1. Regular visual inspections, and where appropriate use other forms of inspection. Review plant and equipment for wear and tear, fatigue or other hazards.
  2. Date inventory and know its expected life span.
  3. Improve the skills of maintenance personnel in identifying such hazards.
  4. Stop maintenance personnel from using their favourite tools irrespective of age and use. Time and time again I see maintenance workers using electrical equipment held together with electrician’s tape – a bit like a cricketer using his favourite bat.
  5. Ensure that the plant and equipment has a replacement date which requires maintenance personnel to positively check whether it is still safe or needs replacement.
  6. Permit a budget line for replacement and repair in the maintenance budget that acknowledges the need for safety.
  7. Do your research – how long or after how many uses does a piece of plant and equipment remain safe? What are the usual hazards the plant and equipment may present and how can an inspection be used to identify the highest level risks for action?
  8. Develop a system of inspection and review that is plant and equipment specific.
    Induct and train people in the system and the relevant methods of hazard identification.

Plant and equipment safety is a critical part of your safety management system. Have you considered it?

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