Work permit failures and a routine maintenance procedure gone awry caused the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster.

EU-OSHA Tackles Twitter and Unsafe Maintenance

You'll find it easy to find out about new regulations and workplace safety campaigns in Europe, including the safe maintenance campaign launching April 28.

EU-OSHA, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, now has a Twitter page to make it easy to track new campaigns, guidance documents, events, and regulatory actions affecting some of Europe's 220 million workers. The Bilbao, Spain-based agency in fact has a new Healthy Workplaces campaign set to launch April 28, Workers Memorial Day, that is focused on the importance of safe maintenance in European workplaces.

EU-OSHA's guide for the campaign starts with a sobering reminder: The disastrous July 6, 1988, fire on the Piper Alpha gas drilling platform in the North Sea killed 167 workers and started from a routine maintenance incident. The cause was condensate that ignited after leaking when workers tried to bring a condensate pump back on line quickly after it had been shut down for maintenance. "The incident was put down to a failure in the permit to work and associated isolation systems. Both of which are critical to ensuring maintenance can be carried out safely," the guide states.

Hazards to which maintenance workers may be exposed include vibration, noise, excessive heat and cold, radiation, heavy lifting, confined spaces, fire, explosion, mold, and biological hazards. The document says an estimated 10-15 percent of fatal work accidents and 15-20 percent of all accidents are related to maintenance.

Five basic rules for safe maintenance, according to EU-OSHA, are:

  • Planning
  • Making the work area safe
  • Using appropriate equipment
  • Working as planned
  • Making final checks

The agency hopes unions, employer groups, safety and health professional associations, insurers, managers, and workers discuss the campaign at their meetings and promote good practices.

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