Five Emergency Maintenance Best Practices All Plant Employees Should Follow

A well-thought-out and well-organized emergency response plan will help prevent fatalities, reduce equipment maintenance costs and help mitigate potential environmental hazards.

Have you encountered a sudden machine failure of a critical asset that needs instant repair? That is what we call emergency maintenance, an unplanned event of repair or maintenance to make the equipment operational again. Here are a few examples of emergency maintenance:

  • sudden replacement of a gasket of a pump
  • replacement of conveyor belts
  • repair of electrical wirings due to short circuit
  • troubleshooting of an elevator stoppage

… and the list goes on. Emergency maintenance doesn’t have a schedule and always happens without warnings, but it can be successfully managed with proper safety measures.

Importance of emergency maintenance safety

Every facility must have a plan and available resources to deal with emergency maintenance. Those plans have to incorporate certain safety guidelines. Since it’s an emergency, pre-planning is essential. The lack of an emergency plan could lead to severe financial losses as well as human casualties.

A well-thought-out and well-organized emergency response plan will help to eliminate these issues. It will prevent fatalities, reduce equipment maintenance costs, improve asset reliability and help mitigate potential environmental hazards.

The following are the safety measures all employees should keep in mind during emergency maintenance.

1. Providing and Following Written Safety Guidelines

Emergency maintenance happens when there is an issue with a critical piece of equipment or when a malfunction leads to a (potential) safety hazard. In both cases, this causes a lot of nervousness on the plant floor as everybody knows that this hurts the company's bottom line.

Since there is a lot of pressure to deal with these situations as fast as possible, it is paramount to have written safety guidelines that are properly communicated to all affected employees. Machine operators, maintenance techs and safety managers all have different tasks and responsibilities they are supposed to follow.

Safety plans can include things like site background, job hazard analysis, job task analysis, list of tools and training requirements. On-site training, toolbox meetings and written safety procedures will help guide all the personnel involved in how they should approach the emergency issues.

2. Wearing Proper PPE

 It’s important to choose appropriate PPE for a task to be completed so the personnel are protected from hazards on site. Different PPE is needed for different tasks. Personnel can’t use PPE for welding if the task is for spill cleanup or vice versa. Thus, it’s advisable to follow the written safety guidelines before doing any actions around assets that are deemed dangerous.

3. Following a Lock-Out Tag-Out (LOTO) Procedure

 All industrial equipment needs to be energized with electricity, gas, steams, pressurized water or compressed air. During any maintenance, but especially emergency maintenance, the equipment must be shut down. One way of preventing the equipment from being accidentally energized is using the proper Lock-out Tag-Out procedure.

This procedure prevents any personnel from switching on the equipment when they are conducting a repair on that equipment. A detailed LOTO program is one of the best ways to ensure that nobody gets injured and no machinery gets damaged, as it is constantly on OSHA's list of the top ten most-violated standards.

4. Finding/Ensuring Safe Access

 Safe access should be one of the considerations when repairing equipment. This should include enough space for the transport of tools, materials and spare parts. Also, the site must be well-lit during the repair so technicians can thoroughly see what they are doing.

Walkways and egress plans such as posted emergency routes, evacuation plans and red exit signs must be visible on-site in case something goes wrong and there is a need to quickly empty the plant floor. Since the general motive of all of these safety guidelines is “better to be safe than sorry,” another important note for all plant employees is to keep their workplace clean and to perform specific preventive maintenance tasks to help prevent slips, trips and falls.

5. Building a Cleanup List

After conducting maintenance, the site must be cleared. The following steps should take place:

  • All repair tools must be properly placed in storage or in a toolbox.
  • All communication tools and PPE must be retrieved for future use.
  • Consumable items must be returned to the warehouse for inventory.
  • Vehicles used must be parked on the pre-designated area.
  • Contact contractors who are specialized for the removal of hazardous debris or waste.
  • LOTO must be removed for the equipment to be operational again.

Having everything in the right place means that nothing will be missing for the next potential emergency.

Lastly, machine operators should get a green light (and know to wait for it!) before the production continues.

Conclusion

Equipment breakdown may not be avoidable at all times, but proper safety measures are here to ensure none of those breakdowns create unwanted safety incidents. This is why it is important that all employees on the plant floor know basic safety guidelines they need to follow, even if they are not in direct contact with the broken piece of equipment.

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