Pressure to reduce UK plant downtime risks H&S

Posted on 10 Jan 2013 by Tim Brown

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 by Maintec, the industrial maintenance and asset management show which takes place at the Birmingham NEC from 5-7 March, collated the experiences of 176 maintenance engineers and managers.

Key findings:

  • health and safety is a big priority for 85% of organisations
  • 23% of respondents reported that the pressure to reduce plant downtime compromises health and safety at their companies
  • 21% of respondents said staff at their businesses cut corners during maintenance

The study showed that health and safety is a big priority for 85% of organisations, with 63% saying is couldn’t be any more important.

However, over a third of companies believe that pressure to reduce plant downtime can compromise health and 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 inherently hazardous place because it is often outside the normal routine. One third of respondents reported that the use of outside contractors in maintenance operations, who often operate to different standards, also contributed to danger when performing maintenance.

Furthermore, one in four (24%) respondents 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.

Poor worker attitude to health and safety appears to affect a small but 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.

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:

  • falls from height (51%)
  • disturbing asbestos (47%)
  • heavy falling objects (46%)
  • 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%)
  • outside contractors not knowing the operation as well as day-to-day staff (38%)

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 listed improving health and safety as a priority. Their reasons for doing this were mixed but the top driver was corporate social responsibility (36%), followed by a need to reduce accidents (15%). 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.

Health and safety will feature prevalently at Maintec this year. “The worlds of health and safety and maintenance are inextricably linked, which is why we have responded by developing this aspect of the show,” said Jake Morrison, Maintec event manager,

“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.”