How can preventive maintenance improve workplace safety?

We often tout preventive maintenance as a way to reduce expenses from unplanned downtimes, but it is true that PM can improve safety as well.

How? It all comes down to the fact that when heavy equipment starts wearing out, it can get dangerous. To really understand the impact PM has on workplace safety, it might help to look at a few examples.

Detecting Equipment Failure

Equipment failures can result from something as simple as a worn belt or a damaged roller. Depending on the situation, even a minor issue can become dangerous. For example, steel cobbles are wildly dangerous, and they can result from damaged rollers. A faulty cutoff valve on a boiler could result in massive injuries for those nearby.

If a piece of equipment fails while in operation, any nearby workers could be put at risk. PM serves to prevent those types of failures, thereby keeping operations crews safe.

Preventing Hazardous Situations

Some of the risks posed by poorly maintained equipment are less dramatic, but still significant. For example, a poorly maintained ventilation system could lead to dangerous gas buildup. HVAC maintenance is key for most plants, and that requires regular PM.

Another example would be leaks or condensation, leading to pooled water and posing a slip-and-fall hazard. These issues often result from poorly maintained assets, such as condensation from a malfunctioning freezer. Again, regular inspections would head off this problem.

Unplanned Downtime and LOTO

Unplanned downtime can in itself be hazardous. The reason for this is because in order to do work on a malfunctioning asset, you’d need to shut it down, and not everyone does that properly.

Lockout-tagout (LOTO) procedures are designed to make sure a broken asset is completely off and ready to work on. However, not everyone has proper LOTO procedures, and they might be ignored in a rushed production scenario. In fact, LOTO-related violations were one of the top 10 most frequent OSHA citations in 2018.

Incidentally, OSHA requires companies to have some kind of PM program in place. Consistent inspections and PMs make sure assets don’t break down as often, eliminating the risk that LOTO procedures might be ignored. If repairs are needed, having a solid LOTO procedure in place will further minimize the risk of injury.

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