The new campaign by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, known as EU-OSHA raises awareness among EU employers of the importance of maintenance for safe and healthy workplaces and the need to protect workers who perform it. 

Why a campaign about safe maintenance? 

Maintenance is carried out in all sectors and workplaces. Failure to maintain the work environment and poor standards of maintenance are a major cause of occupational diseases (e.g. from exposure to asbestos, biological agents, etc.) and accidents: 

  • Many accidents happen during maintenance work; 
  • Many accidents happen because of lack of maintenance (e.g. slips, trips and falls); 
  • Many accidents happen as a result of poor quality maintenance and maintenance management 

How does this fit in with EU’s 2007-2012 Health & Safety strategy? 

It is estimated that 10-15% of all accidents and 10-15% of fatal accidents at the workplace are maintenance related. The Community strategy 2007-2012 on health and safety at work sets us the ambitious goal of achieving, by 2012, a 25% reduction in the rate of accidents at work. If we are to achieve this, we need to focus our efforts targeting the most common risks and the most vulnerable sectors of activity, enterprises and workers. The figures show that maintenance is such an activity. 

Why is maintenance important for safety and health at work? 

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. Regular maintenance has an important role in eliminating workplace hazards and providing safer and healthier working conditions. 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. 

What are the maintenance-specific risks? 

In addition to the risks associated with any working environment, maintenance operations involve some maintenance-specific risks. These include working alongside a running process and in close contact with machinery. 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 – it is an activity where workers need to be in close contact with processes. Maintenance operations typically include both disassembly and reassembly, often involving complicated machinery. This can be associated with a greater risk of human error and a higher risk of accidents. 

Maintenance often involves exceptional work, non-routine tasks and it is often performed in exceptional conditions, such as working in confined spaces, or weekend and night work. Working under time-pressure is also typical for maintenance operations, especially when shutdowns or high-priority repairs are involved. 

Workers are at greater risk when they are working in unfamiliar and frequently changing environments. It is not surprising, therefore, that the subcontracting of maintenance is an aggravating factor in terms of safety and health – numerous accidents and incidents relate to subcontracting maintenance. . Data from France shows that, in 2005, maintenance was the most subcontracted function in industry, and that in 2002 maintenance employees were the second most frequent victims of accidents related to subcontracting (after construction workers). 

What are the hazards maintenance workers might be exposed to while doing their job? 

Because maintenance is carried out in all sectors and workplaces and involves a wide range of tasks, maintenance workers might be exposed to a great variety of hazards. 

  • Physical hazards, such as noise, vibration, or excessive heat and cold 
  • Ergonomics-related hazards – due to poor design of machinery, process and work environment from the point of view of maintenance it is often difficult to reach the objects to be maintained 
  • Chemical hazards, e.g. asbestos in building maintenance, or during the maintenance of industrial installations where hazardous chemicals present, or 
  • Biological hazards, e.g. during maintenance in places where bacteria, moulds, and fungi are likely to proliferate, such as air-conditioning systems 
  • Psychosocial risk factors, such as time pressure, irregular working hours 
  • High risk of all types of accidents crushing by moving machinery, falls from height 

What are the basic rules for safe maintenance? 

The basic rules for safe maintenance are: 

  • Plan the maintenance properly (risk assessment) 
  • Make the work area safe 
  • Use the appropriate equipment 
  • Work as planned 
  • Final check 

What does the European legislation say about 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. 

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. 

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 systems (Directive 2002/44/EC (vibration), Directive 2003/10/EC (noise), Directive 2006/25/EC (artificial optical radiation)) 

What does the Campaign offer to organisations who are interested? 

A wide variety of Campaign materials are available on the Campaign website, in 22 EU languages. These materials include the official Campaign Guide, posters and leaflets, reports and fact sheets, examples of good practice, animations featuring the popular cartoon character Napo and a variety of other Campaign promotion material. On the corporate Agency website, there is a section dedicated to maintenance, providing e.g. access to risk assessment tools for maintenance. 

How can organisations get involved in the Campaign? 

Individuals and organisations of all sizes can take part in Campaign events, or organise their own activities. They can get involved by: 

  • Disseminating and publicising campaign information and materials (leaflets, fact sheets, checklists, etc.), to raise awareness of safe maintenance, both within their own organisation and with those they work with. 
  • Organising their own activities – including maintenance training, conferences or workshops, poster, film or photo competitions or quizzes, suggestion schemes, advertising campaigns, or press conferences. 
  • Taking part in the Good Practice Awards Competition, which recognises organisations of different sizes that have found innovative ways of promoting safe maintenance. 
  • Participating in the European Week for Safety and Health at Work, which takes place in October every year and during which all over Europe many of the Campaign events are taking place.

Pan-European or international organisations can also receive official recognition for their support of the Healthy Workplaces Campaign by:Becoming an official EU Campaign Partner: This partnership offer provides an opportunity to benefit from an extensive range of promotion in the OSH community, in the European area and in the media through the high visibility of the Healthy Workplaces Campaign. This offer is, however, reserved for organisations/companies acting on the pan-European or international level, which are willing to get substantially involved in the Campaign and are able to multiply their efforts through their network members.

More information on The Healthy Workplaces Campaign on Safe Maintenance 2010-11:

More information on Heath & Safety at work: