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November 26, 2012
Linking worker safety and maintenance

Understanding the connection is key to protection

What’s the relationship between safeguarding people and safeguarding equipment? Does better maintenance yield better safety? What are the particular risks faced by maintenance personnel?

This report provides answers, plus a topic of growing interest as businesses are discovering that linking these two essential functions can prevent injuries and incidents and save money.

What are they doing? What’s in it for you? Read on to learn more.

Maintenance 101

Maintenance keeps the workplace and its equipment, machines, and facilities operating efficiently and safely. The purpose of maintenance is to avoid the consequences of equipment failure by replacing, servicing, inspecting, and testing.

There are three types of maintenance:

1. Routine or preventive maintenance (known as PM) is conducted to keep equipment working and/or to extend its life. An example is a scheduled overhaul or replacement.
2. Corrective maintenance gets broken equipment up and running again.
3. Predictive maintenance involves the use of various types of tests to indicate that maintenance is or will soon be needed.

There are risks for employees working on or near improperly maintained equipment, as well as for those who perform maintenance tasks. Many accidents, including slips, trips, and falls, are the result of a lack of maintenance or poor quality maintenance.

According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics job fatalities report, deaths in the category that includes building and grounds cleaning and maintenance were up 14 percent in 2011, the highest level since 2006.

The Scottish safety organization Healthy Working Lives estimates that in Great Britain, between 25 percent and 30 percent of all manufacturing deaths are linked to maintenance activity. Among risks:

• Falls from working at heights,
• Confined spaces or harsh environments associated with accessing equipment,
• Shocks and burns if power is not isolated,
• Injuries from moving parts,
• Musculoskeletal problems related to exerting force or working in awkward spaces, and
• Exposure to asbestos, chemicals, dust, and excessive noise.

Total productive maintenance

Manufacturing Solutions is a business that provides hands-on training to help manufacturing organizations improve safety, quality, and productivity. It is a division of Fuss & O’Neill, a large civil and environmental engineering consulting firm.

President John Kravontka and Vice President Rob Levandoski see a clear connection between maintenance and safety and acknowledge that 90 percent of all maintenance work is a reaction to failures. They say that when maintenance is proactive, the impact on safety is significant, and savings go straight to the bottom line.

Manufacturing Solutions focuses on total productive maintenance, or TPM. One tactic is holding focused improvement events at client companies, where equipment operators and maintenance people spend a week working closely together.

Kravontka explains, “We put the two people in a team environment with a lot of hands-on training and evaluation. Together they maintain and clean the equipment. The operator learns a lot about maintaining the equipment, and the maintenance person begins to understand the point of view of the operator.”

The event sets the stage for ongoing collaboration. Similar events are held with other pairs of operators and maintenance personnel. According to Kravontka, most businesses miss out by not encouraging this type of collaboration and communication.

Typically, when a piece of equipment breaks down, an operator is sent somewhere else in the plant to work. By the time maintenance arrives, the operator is not present and, therefore, is unable to share his or her views.

“We collect data on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) that shows that as OEE or reliability of equipment goes up, safety and injuries go down,” Kravontka adds. It’s not hard to understand why. If equipment is running perfectly, the operator never has to intervene. But if there is a jam, stoppage, or breakage, the operator must get involved, and the chance of injury rises.

The stakes are high

Focusing on safety and maintenance has numerous benefits—even green ones. Levandoski notes that during the TPM events, there is an effort to minimize the use and generation of waste materials that can harm both workers and the environment.

The financial impact of improvements in maintenance is also significant. One client, a medical manufacturer, saw OEE rise on several production lines from about 56 percent to the high 70s. Considering that the cost associated with a 1 percent improvement can be thousands of dollars, multiplying that by more than 20 can yield millions of dollars in savings.

Manufacturing Solutions helps clients save money and avoid injuries by emphasizing condition-based maintenance, an approach that is related to predictive maintenance. The idea is to perform maintenance based on known conditions.

An example is cleaning a 100-gallon hydraulic reservoir. The manufacturer’s recommendation is to clean it annually. But, by taking a sample of the oil regularly, a company may learn that the oil needs to be changed more often. Or, the test may reveal that after a year, the oil is good and does not need to be changed. If maintenance is not necessary, there is an obvious savings, as well as a reduction in the potential for injury.

“Using predictive technology and optimizing PM has a huge impact on savings,” says Kravontka, “but you’re saving more than money. When you put safety and maintenance together, it’s a win/win.”

One client tried ultrasound equipment to detect leaks of compressed gas used to run compressors. In addition to reducing leaks, the effort led to a quieter plant because leaks are noisy. As a result, the plant was able to reduce the number of employees in its hearing conservation program.

Reliance on objective tests is also valuable as the number of trained maintenance specialists declines. According to Kravontka and Levandoski, fewer machine maintenance apprenticeships are available today. And older workers who possess this specialized knowledge are beginning to retire in large numbers.

Manufacturing Solutions seeks to overcome that deficit among new recruits through its focused training and troubleshooting programs.

Easy to see, hard to prove

Tor Idhammar is the founder of the global maintenance consultation firm IDCON. He has looked for, but not found, much data on the correlation between good maintenance and good safety performance, although he believes the connection is strong. The challenge is measuring an injury or incident that might have happened—but did not—because certain controls and procedures were in place.

Interviews with trades people and managers, plus statistics compiled by IDCON, point to a cause-and-effect relationship. “It’s very clear to me that if someone has the right tools and parts, and has allowed the right amount of time to do a maintenance job, the chance of getting hurt or damaging the environment is lower.”

Idhammar, who started IDCON in Sweden in the 1970s and then moved it to the United States, observes, “If you could measure planning and scheduling, those plans with a higher level of that have a better safety record.” In his experience, facilities with an OSHA incident rate under 1.0 often do the most in terms of planning and scheduling maintenance.

Idhammar recommends designing maintenance jobs for safer outcomes. He offers the example of cleaning a tank that is 3 feet in diameter and has a steel cover plate. Designing the task for safety would involve bolting or hinging the huge cover plate onto the tank so that one employee could easily remove it. Otherwise, the heavy, awkward tank cover would have to be lifted off by several employees, creating a serious safety hazard.

Do this, not that

Idhammar explains, “It’s not just a matter of protecting employees when the equipment is running, but when you change it out as well.” Make sure that machines are not stacked behind one another on the shop floor, making it awkward and dangerous (as well as potentially costly) to access them for maintenance.

He advocates embedding safety training into task training for maintenance workers “It’s very important to have a thorough understanding of how a system works, for example, the fact that pressure may reside in a hydraulic unit some time after the equipment has been turned off.”

Formal training, including daily team meetings and thorough investigation of incidents or near misses, is critical. However, Idhammar also recommends informal communication where employees share experiences and insight.

Plant leaders can influence the safety of maintenance work by setting the right tone and making sure those who report to them do the same. Consider the supervisor at Company A who encourages a maintenance worker to take the time needed to safely make a repair.

The supervisor at Company B is rushing the maintenance worker, urging him to do whatever it takes to get the equipment back up as soon as possible. The supervisor points out that every hour the machine is down costs the company $25,000 in productivity losses. The result is a stressed employee who is more likely to make errors.

“The safety program of Company A or Company B might look the same on paper, until you see it in action and how it’s led by top management,” Idhammar adds.

As for the risk to individuals who only occasionally perform a particular maintenance task, Idhammar says, in some cases, this can lead to a safer situation. That’s because workers doing nonroutine tasks tend to be more cautious than they would be while doing work that is quite familiar.

It’s about managing risk

Dale Ekmark, currently a senior consultant for IDCON, is a former Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) official and mine CEO. Ekmark says the light went on about the connection between safety and maintenance when he was flying planes for the Air Force.

“The thought process between a good safety program and good maintenance is almost identical—it’s a matter of risk management,” he says.

Both involve identifying risk (to equipment or to people) and eliminating the risk or putting controls in place to reduce it. Ekmark says, “I’ll guarantee you that companies that do well in safety do well in maintenance, and conversely those that struggle with maintenance end up with a lot of lost time and injuries.”

When failures occur in either domain, the problem is often an absence of planning and risk analysis. “If you go through MSHA or OSHA stats, you’ll find that when fatalities and serious accidents occur, it’s typically during an unscheduled breakdown.”

Diamond in the rough

Some years ago, Ekmark and other consultants were brought into the largest diamond mine in Botswana to try to stem the tide of accidents, reduce the number of breakdowns, and change the risk-taking culture.

With help from the consultants, the mine moved from approximately one lost-time accident per week to no accidents over an 18-month period. One of the tools used was SAFEmap, a culture change method based on a behavioral approach. Another strategy was clarifying expectations. “We told them what we expected in terms of safety and accountability,” Ekmark recalls.

Regular contractor safety meetings were held, and the company got spouses informed and involved. Employees stopped thinking that accidents and breakdowns were “just part of mining.” Instead, they began to see their own role in preventing them.

These and other efforts helped to significantly reduce incidents and boost the mine’s revenue from $2 billion to $2.2 billion, a 10 percent increase. Most important, the changes have proven sustainable over time.

Assessing risk is part of every well-planned maintenance job, according to Ekmark. Whether it’s an oil analysis, an unusual vibration, or a bearing that looks like it’s on its way out, the outcome is better for machines and people when the task is scheduled and planned in an orderly way.

When that happens, it means that people are dictating to the machine when it will be taken down and maintained, rather than the machine dictating the maintenance schedule due to unexpected breakdowns. “What’s better?” Ekmark muses, “Going in for a predictive test or surgery?”

Focus on the basics

How can organizations make their own maintenance activities safer and more productive? Ekmark emphasizes focusing on the basics and offers the following tips:

• Emphasize planning and scheduling on every task.
• Invest in affordable technology, such as a thermographic camera (around $1,000). These cameras are used to detect variations of temperature that can reveal when a motor is not running properly. Maintenance that is planned and scheduled is by nature less risky than middle-of-the-night emergency repairs.
• Make sure leaders consistently convey the right message. Employees need to be told that accidents happen as a result of short cuts, such as failing to lock out a piece of equipment before working on it.
• Teach workers to intervene. If someone walks by a piece of equipment that’s making an unusual noise and fails to inform a supervisor, it’s the same as ignoring a coworker who is working unsafely.
• Get employees engaged and accountable; this can lead to culture change in which safety is part and parcel of everything that’s done at the plant, not solely the responsibility of the safety department.

Start a conversation

If you want to explore this topic at your workplace, start by getting key safety and maintenance people to sit down together. You may wish to suggest possible scenarios, such as a quarterly meeting, and possible outcomes, such as a review of relevant policies and procedures. Other ideas include:

• Consider making your maintenance manager a member of your safety committee.
• Review your procedures for how risks are communicated and addressed. Does notification go to the safety and maintenance departments at the same time? Or, is there a lag in getting the information to maintenance that could slow down the process of removing the hazard?
• Review your policies and training techniques to ensure that job hazard analysis is part of every maintenance job regardless of its size.
• Log and study incidents and near misses that occur during maintenance operations. Conduct thorough investigations, seek root causes, and share findings throughout the organization.

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