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Regular maintenance is essential to keep equipment, machines and the work environment safe and reliable. Lack of maintenance or inadequate maintenance can lead to dangerous situations, accidents and health problems. Maintenance is a high-risk activity with some of the hazards resulting from the nature of the work. Maintenance is carried out in all sectors and all workplaces. Therefore, maintenance workers are more likely than other employees to be exposed to various hazards.

According to the European Standard EN 13306, maintenance concerns the "combination of all technical, administrative and managerial actions during the life cycle of an item intended to retain it in, or restore it to, a state in which it can perform the required function".

Maintenance is a generic term for variety of tasks in very different types of sectors and all kinds of working environments. Maintenance activities include:

inspection  testing  measurement  replacement  adjustment  repair  upkeep fault detection  • replacement of parts  • servicing  lubrication, cleaning

Maintenance is critical to ensure continuous productivity, to produce products of high quality and to keep company’s competitiveness. But it also has an impact on occupational safety and health.

Firstly, good maintenance is essential to keep machines and work environment safe and reliable. Secondly, maintenance itself is a high-risk activity and it has to be performed in a safe way, with appropriate protection of maintenance workers and other people present in the workplace.

Safer and healthier workplaces through adequate maintenance

Regular maintenance has an important role in eliminating workplace hazards and providing safer and healthier working conditions. Lack of maintenance or inadequate maintenance can cause serious and deadly accidents or health problems.

Accidents happen due to faulty electrical installations (cables, plugs, equipment)

  • shock and burns, fires, ignition of potentially flammable or explosive atmospheres

Accidents happen because lifting equipment is not inspected and not maintained regularly

  • lifting chains are dirty/corroded and fail, causing heavy load to fall

Accidents happen as a result of lack of maintenance of working and walking surfaces and traffic routes

  • uneven, potholed, sloped or slippery surfaces cause `fork-lift truck accidents, slips and trips

Dust poses a potential health risk to workers in woodworking industry, quarries.

Maintenance of dust control equipment is crucial in all dust producing processes to prevent exposure of workers to dust

  • ventilation ducts must be kept free from blockages and repaired if damaged
  • filter units need to be maintained regularly according to manufacturer’s recommendations

Maintenance is a high-risk activity

Maintenance-specific hazards and risks

In addition to the risks associated with any working environment, maintenance operations involve some specific risks. 

These include working alongside a running process and in close contact with machinery. During normal operation, automation typically diminishes the likelihood of human error that can lead to accidents. In maintenance activities, contrary to normal operation, direct contact between the worker and machine cannot be reduced substantially - maintenance is an activity where workers need to be in close contact with processes.

high-risk Maintenance often involves unusual work, non-routine tasks and it is often performed in exceptional conditions, such as working in confined spaces.

Maintenance operations typically include both disassembly and reassembly, often involving complicated machinery. This can be associated with a greater risk of human error, increasing the accident risk.

Maintenance involves changing tasks and working environment. This is especially true in case of contract workers. Subcontracting is an aggravating factor in terms of safety and health – numerous accidents and incidents relate to subcontracting maintenance.

Working under time-pressure is also typical for maintenance operations, especially when shutdowns or high-priority repairs are involved.

Hazards, risks and health outcomes

Because maintenance is carried out in all sectors and workplaces and involves a wide range of tasks, it is associated with a great variety of hazards.

Physical hazards

  • noise, vibration
  • excessive heat and cold
  • radiation (ultraviolet radiation, x-rays, electromagnetic fields)
  • high physical workload
  • ergonomics-related risks: due to poor design of machinery, process and work environment from the point of view of maintenance difficult to reach the objects to be maintained - strenuous movements (bending, kneeling, reaching, pushing and pulling, working in confined spaces)

:: Typical tasks:

  • drilling, grinding, filing, sanding
  • working outdoors, maintenance of industrial plant (e.g. ovens and furnaces, chilling units)
  • welding, inspection of pipes, rail maintenance

:: Potential health outcomes: hearing problems due to noise, musculoskeletal disorders

Chemical hazards

  • Asbestos, glass fibre
  • Vapours, fumes, dust (e.g. asphalt fumes, diesel exhaust, crystalline silica)
  • Solvents

:: Typical tasks

  • building maintenance
  • electrical arc welding
  • carrying out work in confined spaces
  • working in car repair shops
  • maintenance of industrial installations where hazardous chemicals are present

:: Potential health outcomes: breathing problems, occupational asthma, allergies, asbestosis, cancer

Biological hazards

  • Bacteria (e.g. legionella, salmonella)
  • Mould and fungi

:: Typical tasks:

  • maintenance in waste treatment plants
  • maintenance where biological agents are handled such as laboratories
  • maintenance in places where bacteria, moulds, and fungi are likely to proliferate, such as air-conditioning systems

:: Potential health outcomes: breathing problems, asthma, allergies, Legionnaires’ disease

Psychosocial risk factors

  • Time pressure
  • Shift work, weekend work, night work, on-call work and irregular working hours
  • Working together with staff from contractors / several contractors – communication issues

:: Potential health outcomes: work-related stress, fatigue, increased accident risk

High risk of all types of accidents

  • Many accidents are related to work equipment and machine maintenance, e.g. crushing by moving machinery, unexpected start-up
  • Falls from height, accidents involving falling objects
  • Electrocution, electrical shocks, burns
  • Confined spaces, asphyxiation
  • Explosion, fire

Facts and figures

Analyses of EUROSTAT data based on the ESAW methodology (European statistics on accidents at work) can help identify accidents related to maintenance operations in several European countries.

It is estimated that around 15-20% (depending on country) of all accidents and 10-15% of all fatal accidents are related to maintenance operations.

hazards Maintenance, repair tuning adjustment is fourth on the list of top 10 working processes accounting for the highest number of fatal accidents over 2003-05 (EUROSTAT-ESAW).

Accidents increasingly tend to happen not during normal operation, but rather during repair, maintenance, cleaning, adjusting, etc.

According to a survey conducted in 2005 in France, maintenance is the most subcontracted function in industry. An analysis of a French work accidents database shows that in 2002 maintenance employees were the second most frequent victims of accidents related to subcontracting, just behind construction workers.

An analysis of the results of the Spanish National Survey of Working Conditions (2007) indicates higher exposure of maintenance workers to noise and to hand arm and whole body vibrations compared to other workers. They are also more exposed to dangerous substances, vapours and fumes.

Around 25% of all electrical injury accidents are caused by portable electrical equipment. Faulty leads to equipment cause around 2000 fires each year. A major cause of such accidents and fires is the failure to carry out inspections and maintenance (HSE).

Read our report and related factsheet  Maintenance and OSH – A statistical picture

Basic rules to get it right

The specific details of maintenance vary between industry sectors and depending on tasks. But there are some common principles:

  • get-it-rightIntegration of OSH management into maintenance management
  • Structured approach based on risk assessment
  • Clear roles and responsibilities
  • Safe systems of work and clear guidelines to follow
  • Adequate training and competence
  • Involvement of workers in the risk assessment and maintenance management process
  • Effective communication

Five basic rules for safe maintenance

1. Planning

Maintenance should start with proper planning. A risk assessment should be carried out and workers should be involved in this process. Issues to be covered at the planning stage are:

  • The scope of the task – what needs to be done, and how it will affect other workers and activities in the workplace
  • Risk assessment: potential hazards have to be identified (e.g. dangerous substances, confined spaces, moving parts of machinery, chemical substances or dust in the air), and measures need to be developed to eliminate or minimise the risks (form more information visit the risk assessment section)
  • Safe systems of work have to be defined (permits to work, lock-off systems)
  • The time and resources that the activity will require
  • Communication between maintenance and production staff, and all other parties concerned
  • Competence and adequate training

Employers need to ensure that workers have the skills that they need to carry out the necessary tasks, are informed about safe work procedures, and know what to do when a situation exceeds their competence. Employers should think carefully about the 'chain of command' among those who are involved in a maintenance task, and any procedures that will be used for the duration of the activity, including reporting procedures if there should be a problem. This is especially important if the maintenance is carried out by subcontractors.

Consulting workers and keeping them informed is vital throughout the planning stage. Not only should employees carrying out a maintenance task be informed of the outcomes of the initial risk assessment, but they should also be involved in it. Because of their familiarity with the workplace, they are often in the best position to identify hazards and the most efficient ways of dealing with them. Workers’ participation in the planning process increases not only the safety of maintenance work, but also its quality.

2. Making the work area safe

The work area needs to be secured by preventing unauthorised access, for example, by using barriers and signs. The area also needs to be kept clean and safe, with power locked-off, moving parts of machinery secured, temporary ventilation installed, and safe routes established for workers to enter and exit the work area. Warning cards should be attached to machinery, with the date and time of lock-off, as well as the name of the person authorised to remove the lock – this way, the safety of the worker performing the maintenance on the machine will not be jeopardised by another worker inadvertently starting it up.

If possible, guards should be designed so as to allow minor maintenance on the machines without removing the safeguards. If the guard must be removed or deactivated, then lock-off procedures should be followed. Maintenance operators and workers shall be trained on how and under which conditions safeguards may be removed.

3. Using appropriate equipment

Workers involved in maintenance tasks should have the appropriate tools and equipment, which may be different from those that they normally use. Considering that they may be working in areas that are not designed to have people working in them, and that they may be exposed to a variety of hazards, they must also have appropriate personal protective equipment.

With respect to the equipment and tools to be used, employers should ensure that:

  • the right tool and equipment for the job is available (together with instructions in using it, if required)
  • it is in appropriate condition
  • it is suitable for the work environment (e.g., no sparking tools in flammable atmospheres)
  • it has an ergonomic design

All personal protective equipment must:

  • be appropriate for the risks involved, without itself leading to any increased risk
  • correspond to existing conditions at the workplace
  • take account of ergonomic requirements and the worker's state of health
  • fit the wearer correctly after any necessary adjustment.

For example, workers cleaning or replacing filters on extraction ventilation may be exposed to concentrations of dust that are much higher than normal for a particular workplace. Access to these filters, which are frequently located in the roof area, has to be made safe as well.

4. Working as planned

Safe work procedures have to be communicated, understood by workers and supervisors and applied correctly. The work should be monitored so that the agreed safe systems of work and sites rules are observed. Maintenance is often carried out under pressure – for example when a fault has brought the production process to a standstill. Safe procedures need to be followed, even when there is time pressure: shortcuts could be very costly if they lead to accidents, injuries, or damage to property.

Procedures need to be in place for unexpected events. Part of the safe system of work should be to stop work when faced with an unforeseen problem or a problem exceeding one’s own competence. It is very important to remember that exceeding the scope of one’s own skills and competence may result in accidents.

5. Making final checks

The maintenance process needs to end with checks to make sure that the task has been completed, that the item under maintenance is in a safe condition, and that all waste material that has been generated during the maintenance process has been cleaned away. When all is checked and declared safe, then the task can be signed off, and supervisors and other workers can be notified.

The final step involves completing a report, describing the work that has been performed and including comments on any difficulties that have been encountered, together with recommendations for improvement. Ideally, this should also be discussed at a staff meeting where the workers involved in the process, as well as those working around them, can comment on the maintenance activity and come up with suitable suggestions to improve the process.

European legislation on maintenance


Since 1989, a number of European directives have been adopted, laying down a general framework of minimum requirements for the protection of workers at the workplace.

These directives also apply to maintenance activities, first and foremost the framework directive, including the obligation for the employers to carry out a risk assessment at work.

Council Directive 89/391 - "Framework Directive" about the general principles concerning the prevention and protection of workers against occupational accidents and diseases

It contains the general principles of prevention, lays down employers’ obligations concerning the assessment of risks, the elimination of risks and accident factors, the informing, consultation and balanced participation and training of workers and their representatives.

The European Commission produced a Guidance on risk assessment at work to help employers and employees to implement the risk assessment requirements of the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC. In this guide, maintenance workers were identified as “workers who may be at increased risk”. The guide also points out the need to conduct a separate risk assessment for maintenance activities.

On the basis of the "Framework directive" a series of individual directives were adopted, all relevant for carrying out maintenance in a safe way and many of them include specific provisions regarding maintenance activities and requirements for maintenance to eliminate workplace hazards.

Council Directive 89/654/EEC

concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the workplace includes among others the requirement for the employers to ensure that

  • traffic routes to emergency exits and the exits themselves are kept clear at all times
  • technical maintenance of the workplace and of the equipment and devices is carried out and any faults found which are liable to affect the safety and health of workers are rectified as quickly as possible
  • safety equipment and devices intended to prevent or eliminate hazards are regularly maintained and checked

Council Directive 89/655/EEC

concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the use of work equipment by workers at work, whereas use of work equipment comprises maintenance and servicing, including, in particular, cleaning stipulates that

  • the employer shall take the measures necessary to ensure that, throughout its working life, work equipment is kept, by means of adequate maintenance, at a level such that it complies with the provisions of paragraph 1 (a) or (b) as applicable.
  • the employer shall ensure that work equipment exposed to conditions causing deterioration which can result in dangerous situations is subject to:

- periodic inspections and special inspections to ensure that health and safety conditions are maintained and that the deterioration can be detected and remedied in good time

  • when the use of work equipment is likely to involve a specific risk to the safety or health of workers, the employer shall ensure that:

- the use of work equipment is restricted to those persons given the task of using it;
- in the case of repairs, modifications, maintenance or servicing, the workers concerned are specifically designated to carry out such work.

It also contains minimum requirement for control and protection devices and provisions concerning maintenance:

  • it must be possible to carry out maintenance operations when the equipment is shut down. If this is not possible, it must be possible to take appropriate protection measures for the carrying out of such operations or for such operations to be carried out outside the danger zones
  • if any machine has a maintenance log, it must be kept up to date
  • workers must have safe means of access to, and be able to remain safely in, all the areas necessary for production, adjustment and maintenance operations.

In addition, it contains provisions regarding the use of work equipment provided for temporary work at a height, e.g. specific provisions regarding the use of ladders, scaffolding.

Council Directive 89/656/EEC

on the minimum health and safety requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace stipulates that personal protective equipment shall be provided free of charge by the employer, who shall ensure its good working order and satisfactory hygienic condition by means of the necessary maintenance, repair and replacements.

ANNEX III to the directive provides a non-exhaustive guide list of activities and sectors of activity which may require the provision of personal protective equipment.

Council Directive 92/91/EEC

concerning the minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers in the mineral-extracting industries through drilling

Contains among others minimum requirements applicable to the on-shore and off-shore sectors including provisions on maintenance.

Council Directive 92/104/EEC

on the minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers in surface and underground mineral-extracting industries

The employer shall take the necessary measures to ensure that:

  • workplaces are designed, constructed, equipped, commissioned, operated and maintained in such a way that workers can perform the work assigned to them without endangering their safety and/or health and/or those of other workers;
  • work involving a special risk is entrusted only to competent staff and carried out in accordance with the instructions given.

Council Directive 93/103/EC

concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for work on board fishing vessels stipulates that Member States must take necessary measures to ensure that owners:

  • ensure that vessels and their fittings and equipment are technically maintained and that defects found are rectified as quickly as possible

Council Directive 98/24/EC

on the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work stipulates that maintenance, which is associated with a potential for significant exposure or may result in deleterious effects to safety and health for other reasons, shall be included in the risk assessment. It also stipulates that risks to the health and safety of workers at work involving hazardous chemical agents shall be eliminated or reduced to a minimum by:

  • the design and organisation of systems of work at the workplace,
  • the provision of suitable equipment for work with chemical agents and maintenance procedures which ensure the health and safety of workers at work, etc.

Directive 2006/42/EC

on machinery, and amending Directive 95/16/EC states in its preamble that the social cost of the large number of accidents caused directly by the use of machinery can be reduced by inherently safe design and construction of machinery and by proper installation and maintenance.

ANNEX I on Essential health and safety requirements relating to the design and construction of machinery includes the principles of safety integration, requirements for control systems, and specific provisions regarding machinery maintenance, as well as requirements for information, warnings and instructions.

A number of individual Directives have been enacted controlling the exposure of workers to potentially damaging physical agents in the workplace such as vibration, noise, electromagnetic fields, optical radiation and ionizing radiation. These directives include a provision aimed at avoiding or reducing exposure among others by means of appropriate maintenance programmes for work equipment, the workplace and workplace system

  • Directive 2002/44/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (vibration)

  • Directive 2003/10/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (noise)
  • Directive 2006/25/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of the workers to risks arising from physical agents (artificial optical radiation)
  • Directive 2004/40/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of the workers to risks arising from electromagnetic fields and waves

Other relevant directives

  • Council Directive 92/58/EEC on the minimum requirements for the provision of safety and/or health signs at work
  • Directive 1999/92/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres
  • Council Directive 83/477/EEC of 19 September 1983 on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work (second individual Directive within the meaning of Article 8 of Directive 80/1107/EEC) as amended by Council Directive 91/382/EEC, Council Directive 98/24/EC, Directive 2003/18/EC and Directive 2007/30/EC
  • Directive 2005/54/EC on the protection of workers from risks related to exposure to biological agents at work
  • Council Directive 92/57/EEC on the implementation of minimum safety and health requirements at temporary or mobile construction sites
  • Council Directive 96/82/EC on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances

More information on the European legislation section

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