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Maintenance can be seen as either reactive or proactive [1]. Reactive means engaging in maintenance activity to resolve equipment and machinery which are not functioning properly. Proactive maintenance occurs when steps are taken to maintain, clean and ensure optimum functioning of machinery and equipment to prevent lack of optimum functioning. Employers need to ensure that both proactive and reactive maintenance be considered within part of the worker’s daily routine to maintain smooth running of the production process. This implies that the necessary maintenance operations be carefully planned, that the maintenance personnel be highly qualified and that they can perform the operations safely and in good health. Of special importance is a comprehensive risk assessment, involving the maintenance workers themselves and the resulting implementation of preventive measures. An effective monitoring system has to be in place and a continuous improvement process should be installed.

Importance of maintenance

The understanding of the word “maintenance" varies slightly between European member states. There is nevertheless a common European standard - EN 13306:2010 – defining maintenance as a "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". It implies a differentiation between preventive maintenance and corrective maintenance[2].

Maintenance plays an important role in the social and economic development of our society. Figures are difficult to establish, due to maintenance being a cross-sector activity, however the Forum Vision Instandhaltung (FVI) in 2005 estimated the turnover in Germany to be around 250 billion Euros, almost double that of the construction sector [3]. It is estimated that 6% of the working population in Spain and France are involved in maintenance work [4]. This figure is higher in Germany, where more than 15% of all working persons are involved in the maintenance of machines and plants[5].

The burden for the society to keep buildings, machines, infrastructure etc. functional for Germany is estimated by experts as steadily increasing to 13% of the gross domestic product (315 billion Euros in 2004). At the organisational level, maintenance costs make up between 15%-40% of the overall operating costs [6][7], while in petrochemical, electrical power, and mining industries, manufacturing costs can surpass that of operational costs. Yet the costs caused by insufficient or omitted maintenance are considered to be four to five times as much [8], showing an enormous potential for savings through carefully planned maintenance.

Therefore companies employing a simple cost-cutting strategy with regards to maintenance may experience serious backfire caused by increased downtime. Such a strategy will also aggravate the accident and ill health situation, faced by maintenance workers: In France about 44% of all fatal accidents in 2002 were related to maintenance [9]. More than 50% of all accidents in the German metal sector production and one fifth of all fatal accidents in all sectors happen during maintenance [5]. Similarly, between 2004 and 2008, there were slightly more violent and accidental deaths amongst Finnish industrial maintenance workers than other occupational groups[10]. The same study reported that this group of workers had a 20% higher incidence of disability pensions than other employees. The situation regarding work related diseases is quite similar: “Industrial maintenance employees have an 8-10 times greater chance of developing an occupational disease than the average population." (EU-OSHA, 2010). Europe wide 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 [11]. The Austrian Ministry of Labour established that 40% of all machine related accidents at do not happen during normal operations but rather during maintenance work, although these jobs only take up 5% of the entire working time [12]. Workers doing maintenance tasks are at risk, because they perform difficult jobs, often within tight time frames and in difficult, sometimes unfamiliar places. They are at risk, because they may encounter complex and sometimes faulty machines and structures.

Adjusted management strategies establish the necessary maintenance steps to ensure the smooth running of production. Structures, machines and plants are becoming increasingly complex and need farsighted planning of maintenance. On the other hand more sophisticated appliances like RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification), which indicate the timely exchange of parts, can support an effective form of preventive maintenance. This development obviously requires specially qualified staff. This aspect has surely contributed to the increased outsourcing of maintenance [8]. Outsourcing may make highly specialised personnel available; however, it creates safety problems on the other hand, because the service workers are usually less familiar with the company-specific layout and construction of machinery and plants.

OSH management

Employers have to safeguard the smooth running of production by avoiding or at least minimising any down time.This requires the diligent planning of maintenance tasks and the precise securing of the quality and the safe conduction of the related operations. Maintenance should be an issue of its own when formulating the company objectives[13].

Organisational and operational structure

Employers have to provide the necessary organisation and means for effective health and safety protection. This includes allocating responsibilities. The health and safety personnel need to be aware of how safe maintenance can improve motivation of staff and the production of the company. The responsible persons have to have the necessary knowledge to conduct a related risk assessment and to draw the right conclusions, see following section.

When determining the processes maintenance should already be considered in the design phase. Structures, machines and plants should be built in such a way that they allow easy access and safe work for maintenance personnel. Company operations have to be carefully planned so as to allow the safe conducting of maintenance work while also giving consideration to unforeseeable situations. The workers should also be consulted so that all important aspects will be taken into account.


Ensuring the qualification and further education of the workers performing maintenance tasks is another important managerial issue. As buildings and machines become more and more sophisticated maintenance staffs need to keep up with this development. Employees should be given the opportunity to not only develop their knowledge but to also bring in their experience. This is all the more important as maintenance tasks can always bring about unplanned and unforeseeable dangerous situations. This is evident from studies with maintenance workers, whereby lack of qualifications were found to be contributing factors towards reduced safety in the railway maintenance [14][15] or across different industries [16]. Workers need to retrieve all their knowledge and skills in order to manage these situations safely. It also plays an important role in changing risky behaviour on behalf of the workers. However, in this aspect it is also of utmost importance that all superiors set a good example and always follow the determined rules themselves.

Monitoring and continuous improvement

Good management should also seek advice from outside experts where necessary, provide for effective monitoring, allow opportunities to learn from experience and thus create continuous improvement processes. Finally all important aspects should be documented for further reference. In order to have a comprehensive structure, employers should consider to implement an OSH management system, this could even be integrated into a quality and environment management system so as to make use of synergy effects.


Maintenance tasks are often outsourced or assigned to an external service company because specialists are needed to do the often complicated jobs. Similarly, the use of temporary or migrant workers to conduct maintenance tasks is prevalent across sectors [16]. However, seen from the OSH vantage point, this means that new issues arise that have to be tackled carefully:

  • Outside workers are usually less familiar with the company-specific layout and construction of machinery and plants.
  • Communication between one’s own and outside workers may be problematic regarding time, language and organisation.
  • Coordination of production and maintenance work becomes more difficult.

It may be necessary to put a permission system in place, only giving specifically trained people access to sensitive and dangerous areas. Coordinating panels involving the service company have to be established while means and ways of communication between all stakeholders need to be set up accordingly. The situation in small and medium enterprises can be quite different from that of larger firms. They often have the opposite perspective, because they may be service companies doing the maintenance work for larger companies or individual customers (e.g. garages). From their point of view it is important to always have the right contact persons, to be involved in the client’s risk assessment processes, to always be up to date regarding developments of the contractor’s buildings and machines, to have the right equipment and to receive sufficient training. In addition, the tasks and activities involving contracting staff needs to be clearly defined, there needs to be good work organisation between the contracting and host company and their workers, and there should be good communication up and down the contracting chain.

Risk assessment

Preventive measures have to be based on a prior risk assessment. A risk assessment is a careful examination of what, could cause harm to people, so that one can judge whether there are enough precautions in place or more is needed to prevent harm. It involves identifying the hazards present in any undertaking (whether arising from work activities or from other factors, e.g. the layout of the premises) and then evaluating the extent of the risks involved, taking into account existing precautions[4].

Any risk assessment process should:[4]

  • look for the hazards (whether arising from work activities or from other factors, e.g. the layout of the premises),
  • decide who might be harmed and how,
  • evaluate the extent of the risks involved
  • decide whether existing precautions are adequate or whether more control measures should be introduced
  • involve employees and worker representatives, including consulting them about the risks and prevention measures in the process and providing information on risk assessment results
  • take account of people’s abilities when planning work
  • considering maintenance workers as part of risk assessments at the design and planning stage, making use of their experience
  • record the findings

The European Commission produced a guide on risk assessment at work in order to help employers and employees implement the risk assessment requirements of the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC, (see the section on legislation below). 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 [17].

The specific risk assessment has to examine: the work activities, the work equipment, the work environment, the work organisation, physical and psychosocial hazards, information and training needs. Typical hazards in maintenance work are:

  • difficult access, working at height, working in awkward positions,
  • working near running engines and at systems still under pressure,
  • working with dangerous substances,
  • electric shock, unsuitable tools,
  • time pressure, improper planning, insufficient training, inappropriate communication,
  • unforeseeable situations
  • unfamiliar workplaces.

Outsourcing and subcontracting need special consideration, the risk assessment should include both client’s and service provider’s perspectives and coordination and communication issues..

The results of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment should enable to choose which preventive measures are most appropriate in order to prevent risks in general and also to prevent risks to any individuals identified as being particularly at risk. The implementation may mean making changes to the organisation and working procedures, working environment, Personal Protective Equipment used; training management and staff; and improving communications. See Section 4 for typical measures.

The adoption of any policies and measures should always be carefully planned, and carried out with consultation of the workforce and their representatives as a key component of success. This should include coordination and communication between the client and service company personnel. The general principle, also laid down in the respective EU directives (see Section 6, Legislation), is that risks should be prevented at source and that work organisation, tasks, equipment and tools should be adapted to workers in order to eliminate and reduce risks. Measures should follow the prevention hierarchy:

  1. Elimination of risks
  2. Substitution e.g. of dangerous substances
  3. Collective control measures like technical, organisational and administrative measures
  4. Individual control such as personal protective equipment.

There must be periodic reviews to check that measures, policies and procedures remain appropriate and are working and revised if necessary.

Preventive measures

The following table shows some typical hazards associated with maintenance work and related possible preventive measures.

Table 1: Hazards and preventive measures

Exposure to chemical substances during maintenance of pipes, machines, etc
Unexpected start-up of machines
  • Only purchase, design or manufacture machines that are easy and safe to maintain. Make sure machines have a stop mechanism or isolation switch so that when maintenance is being done, it’s impossible for the machine to start while maintenance work is underway.
  • Develop and apply safe systems of work including permits to work and lock-off procedures.
  • Make sure that safe systems of work are communicated and understood by the workers when maintenance work is being done, all machines are tagged that must not be used or switched on while work is underway. This requirement should be communicated not only to workers performing maintenance tasks but also to all other employees in the area. It should be included in the safety training.
Lack of knowledge and awareness of safety issues
  • There is a legal obligation for employers to provide information and training on health and safety to all employees who need it, including temporary staff and contractors.
  • In addition to the necessary professional skills, workers should receive safety and health training, and be informed about the hazards related to specific jobs and about the safe working procedures.
  • Workers should be involved in risk assessment and the development of preventive measures.|| Shift work, night shifts, inflexible work schedules, unpredictable hours, long or unsociable hours
Physical strain
  • Design or purchase equipment and introduce work practices that eliminate or reduce the physical strain.
  • Provide maintenance workers who have to lift or move heavy loads with a hoist or other lifting or transporting equipment.
  • Minimise the carrying distances.
  • Ensure that there is enough space to do the work.
  • Provide training on how to perform maintenance work ergonomically.
Working at height or climbing structures
  • Consider maintenance in the design stage
  • Ensure that, where appropriate, an edge protection system is in place.
  • Make sure that workers climbing and working at height are secured and protected against fall at all times.
  • Investigate whether it is possible to use a mechanical lifting device to eliminate the need to climb (e.g.’ cherry picker’, elevating work platform), or what system can be introduced to minimise the risks during the climbing phase.
  • Make workers aware of the danger and make sure they understand the importance of the protective equipment they have to wear, that they know how to use it properly and that it is maintained and replaced as required.
  • Include in the training information details of any health problems that may affect a worker’s ability to work safely at height, and the reporting protocol.
Exposure to asbestos
  • Always ensure that everyone is aware of the presence of asbestos so that the necessary measures can be taken.
  • Make sure the workers performing maintenance tasks are aware of the risk and know how to protect themselves and others.
  • Develop and communicate safe work practices for the workers while providing the appropriate tools and protective equipment.
Working with (sub) contractors
  • Develop an appropriate and effective communication structure covering all parties concerned
  • Make sure that the job order or contract contains information on the potential hazards, the measures that have been taken to eliminate or limit them, those precautions that still need to be taken, and safe behaviour
  • Inform the contractor’s maintenance worker/s about inhouse safety procedures, as well as any risks related to the task and preventive measures that have been taken. This should be part of the general induction procedure.
  • Inform employees about the presence of contractors and the tasks they are performing.
  • Organisational measures such as careful planning of resources, coordination and communication, clear roles and responsibilities, adequate training and induction
  • Raise awareness: workers, managers and supervisors have to be aware of all potential risks.|-

Source: Adapted from EU-OSHA, 2010a[1]

Measures in case of an accident

The accident at Union Carbide India Ltd in Bhopal 1984 indicates how important it is to have safe systems in place. On the other hand it also shows that it is equally important to be prepared when accidents happen. These should include the relevant technical skills and procedures, including first aid organisation, of fire fighting plans and of related alarm plans. At the same time, other non-technical skills (e.g., decision making, situation awareness, communication and co-ordination, teamwork) should also be developed [20]. Emergency arrangements must be planned and regularly rehearsed.. Exercises should be conducted and reviewed regularly, learning from incidents within and external to the organisation/ sector [21].


There is no specific legislation dealing with occupational safety and health (OSH) in maintenance. The directives laying down a general framework for the minimum requirements in protecting workers at the workplace also apply to maintenance activities. The framework directive, Council Directive 89/391 – "Framework Directive" about the general principles concerning the prevention and protection of workers against occupational accidents and diseases, 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[17].

On the basis of the "Framework directive" a series of individual directives were adopted, all relevant for carrying out maintenance in a safe manner. Many of them include specific provisions regarding maintenance activities and requirements for maintenance to eliminate workplace hazards[17]. These directives - including the framework directive - had to be transformed into the national legislation of the member states.


[1] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Safe Maintenance in Practice, 2010a. Available at:

[2] CEN EN – European Committee for Standardization (2010). CEN EN 13306:2010 Maintenance - Maintenance terminology. Retrieved 14 April 2011, from:

[3] Schuh, G., Lorenz, B.: ‘TPM – eine Basis für die wertorientierte Instandhaltung‘, Betriebliche Instandhaltung, Springer Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg, 2009.

[4] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2011), Risk assessment. Retrieved 24 February 2011, from:

[5] VMBG – Vereinigung der Metallberufsgenossenschaften, ‘Instandhaltung – schnell aber sicher‘, Mitteilungsblatt Gesund+Sicher, Juni 2001.

[6] Eti, M.C., Ogaji, S.OT., & Probert, S.D., ‘Reducing the cost of preventative maintenance (PM) through adopting a proactive reliability-focused culture’, Applied Energy, 83, 11, 2006, pp. 1235-1248.

[7] Simões, J.M., Gomes, C.F., & Yasin, M.M., ‘A literature review of maintenance performance measurement: A conceptual framework and directions for future research’, Journal of Quality in Maintenance Engineering, 17, 2, 2011, pp.116 –137.

[8] Bandow, G., Schaefer, F.-W., ‘Ganzheitliche Instandhaltung – Strukturen und Strategien’, Handbuch der Prozessautomatisierung, Oldenbourg Industrieverlag, 4th edition, München, 2009, pp. 727-49.

[9] INRS – National Research and Safety Institute, ‘Maintenance: des activités à risqué’, Fiche pratique de sécurité, ED 123, 2005. Available at:

[10] Korhonen P I, Saalo A, Pensola T, & Priha E., ‘Teollisuuden kunnossapitohenkilöstön riskiprofiili (Risk profile of industrial maintenance staff)’, Helsinki, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, 2011

[11] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2010), Maintenance. Retrieved 19 February 2011, from:

[12] BMASK – Bundesministerium für Arbeit, Soziales und Konsumentenschutz, Austria (2010). Fachkonferenz Gesunde Arbeitsplätze - sichere Instandhaltung in Wien. Retrieved 19 February 2011, from:

[13] ISSA – International Social Security Association, Maintenance and Changes in Plants with High Safety Requirements – Practical Guidance, Jedermann-Verlag, Heidelberg, 2007.

[14] Turner, N., Chmiel, N., & Walls, M., ‘Railing for safety: Job demands, job control, and safety citizenship role definition’, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10, 4, 2005, pp. 504-512.

[15] Baldry, C., ‘Off the rails: Factors affecting track worker safety in the railway industry’, Employee Relations, 28, 3, 2006, pp. 255-272.

[16] Underhill, E., & Quinlan, E., ‘How precarious employment affects health and safety at work: The case of temporary agency workers’, Relations industrielles. 66, 3, 2011, pp. 397-421

[17] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Maintenance and Occupational Safety and Health — A statistical picture, 2010. Available at:

[18] JobLiv Danmark, bst Sjaelland (2006). CatSub – catalogue of examples of substitution of hazardous chemicals. Retrieved 13 April 2011, from:

[19] KOOP – Kooperationsstelle Hamburg (2008). Cleantool – Europe wide database for parts cleaning, metal surface cleaning. Retrieved 13 April 2011, from:

[20] Crichton, M.T., & Flin, R., ‘Training for emergency management: Tactical decision game’, Journal of Hazardous Materials, 88, 2-3, 2001, pp. 255-266.

[21] Crichton, M.T., Ramsay, C.G., & Kelly, T. ‘Enhancing organizational resilience through emergency planning: Learnings from cross-sectoral lessons’, Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 17, 1, 2011, pp. 24-37.

Further reading

EFNMS – the European Federation of National Maintenance Societies (website, no publishing date available). Retrieved 14 April 2011, from:

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (website, no publishing date available), Legislation. Retrieved 14 April 2011, from:

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Facts 90: Maintenance and OSH:A statistical picture, Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2011. Available at:

EUR-Lex (website, no publishing date available),. Database on legislation. Retrieved 14 April 2011, from:

SMRP – Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (website, no publishing date available). Retrieved 14 April 2011, from:

Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia. Maintenance, repair and opreations (26 May 2011). Retrieved 8 June 2011, from:,_repair,_and_operations

Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia.. Bhopal disaster (6 June 2011). Retrieved 8 June 2011, from:

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Richard Graveling

Klaus Kuhl
Juliet Hassard