What is maintenance?

Last reviewed on 18/12/2012 12:18

What is it?

Maintenance involves keeping the workplace, its structures, equipment, machines, furniture and facilities in good repair and operating efficiently and safely. It includes many tasks including repairing, replacing, servicing, inspecting and testing. The term could also be used in relation to the importance of keeping your staff safe, fit and healthy.

There are two main types of maintenance work. Routine/preventative maintenance is usually planned and includes scheduled inspections repairs and replacement to make sure everything continues to work. It can be compared to an annual service on your car. Corrective maintenance is needed when things go wrong or break downs occur demanding reactive action to be taken to get things up and running again. It can be compared to having a repair carried out on your car after a part has failed.

Why is it important?

Regular maintenance is essential to keep premises, equipment, machines and the work environment safe and reliable. It helps to eliminate workplace hazards. Lack of maintenance or inadequate maintenance can lead to dangerous situations, accidents and health problems.

It is important that a planned maintenance programme is in place and that all maintenance work is risk assessed before beginning the task.


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Who is affected/ most at risk?

Everyone is affected. Those who carry out maintenance work are at risk if the tasks have not been assessed and adequate controls are in place to keep them safe but others would be affected if maintenance work was not carried out as they could be working with or around dangerous equipment or within a dangerous environment. Contractors brought in to carry out maintenance work can be particularly at risk as they may be unfamiliar with the workplace and the procedures in place for working safely.

Maintenance can be dangerous, it is estimated that, between 25 and 30% of all manufacturing industry deaths in Britain result from maintenance activity.

This doesn’t include the long-term health problems associated with maintenance. One example of this is the recent HSE campaigns highlighting the numbers of workers exposed to asbestos during maintenance work in buildings where asbestos is present.

What does the law say?

The main legislation covering maintenance work is the Health and Safety at Work Act, which outlines the general responsibilities employers have to maintain a safe place of work, safe systems of work and safe work equipment.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 which require employers to do a suitable and sufficient risk assessment also applies to maintenance work – this assessment must be carried out before maintenance work is undertaken, even when it is reactive and production demands requires a fast response.

Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 which state that employers must maintain their workplace and equipment in an efficient state, good working order and in good repair.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 states that employers must ensure that work equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair. Employers must also keep a maintenance log.


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How often?

Some maintenance activities are decided on the basis of a risk assessment such as e.g. for electrical testing - PAT testing, in accordance with the manufacturers guidance. Other maintenance is required in accordance with specific regulations which will apply to to certain activities and within specific industries.

Statutory maintenance

Legislation dictates that certain items of equipment are maintained at specific intervals. This could be 6, 12, 14 or 26 months depending on the equipment.

What are the main risks?

Maintenance work can in itself be hazardous. It can also make the workplace more hazardous while the work is being carried out. A risk assessment will be needed to identify suitable control measures to manage the maintenance work effectively.Some of the main problems associated with maintenance work are:


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What can be done?

Maintenance should start with proper planning. A risk assessment should be carried out and workers should be involved in this process. A maintenance plan is a useful tool, a list of premises, plant and equipment to be maintained should be compiled. The plan should include details of the maintenance to be carried out on each item and when it will be carried out. Record keeping is important, so make sure you keep details of the work carried out.

Use the appropriate equipment
Workers involved in maintenance tasks should have the appropriate tools and equipment, including appropriate personal protective equipment. It’s important to make sure you have all of the equipment you need before starting work, many accidents happen when someone decides to improvise with an inappropriate item, tool or piece of equipment

Make the area safe
You may need to restrict access to the equipment and the area being maintained. The work area needs to be secured by preventing unauthorised access and needs to be kept clean and safe. Warning cards should be attached to machinery. Any machinery undergoing maintenance must be isolated and locked off if there is a risk of the item being restarted before maintenance is complete.


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Work as planned
Safe work procedures have to be communicated understood by workers and applied correctly, even when there is time pressure. Where written safe systems of work are in place make sure everyone is familiar with the procedure and emphasise that taking shortcuts is unacceptable.

Final control/checks
The maintenance process needs to end with checks to make sure that the task has been completed and that the item under maintenance is in a safe condition. Sometimes these checks may be by an external body or contractor, make sure you schedule this into your procedure.

Permit To Work
Permit to work systems are often used where high risk maintenance activities are carried out. Permit systems require robust management procedures and a high level of competence from everyone involved in the process.


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Training and competence
It is essential that all employees involved in carrying out maintenance work and those who will be working around them are competent to carry out the task and have received sufficient training.

Employers must make sure that those carrying out maintenance have the skills and experience to carry out the tasks they are given and are aware of what to do in situations they may be least expecting. This includes their own employees and any contractors or specialists they employ to carry out the maintenance. They must also ensure the employees have been informed of the safe systems of work for each task and that they understand the importance of these systems

For further information on safe maintenance

Email your query now

Call our Adviceline on 0800 019 2211

Free resources from Healthy Working Lives


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HSE free publications/information

Safe maintenance checklist – HSE(external site)

Improving maintenance, A guide to reducing human error– HSE(external site)

Maintenance Priorities in Catering - CAIS12– HSE(external site)

Other free information from the European Health and Safety at Work Agency

OSHA Campaigns(external site)

OSHA Maintenance(external site)

OSHA Factsheet(external site)


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