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Risk assessments in maintenance

Risk assessments in maintenanceMaintenance is important, but it can throw up extra hazards that are not normally a problem. Engineers must carefully plan their maintenance to make sure nothing goes wrong.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment involves taking a thorough look at the operation that will be carried out and trying to anticipate everything that could go wrong. Risk assessment is an important part of any project, not just an engineering one. Consider this example:

You are beginning work on a research project with some friends at school. You all need to use the internet to research different areas of one topic, then come together to give a presentation and printed report on your chosen topic.

Good risk assessment for this project would involve looking at the things that could go wrong such as:

  • computer/technology failure
  • someone falling ill before the presentation
  • another group choosing the same topic
  • last-minute cancellation of group meetings

Once you have listed the risks involved with the project you can look at the best ways to ensure that these issues don’t arise. For instance, you might decide that to limit the impact of computer failure, you will back up your files once a day to a shared folder or USB stick. That way if one person has a computer crash, all of the work will still be saved.

Why do we have risk assessments for maintenance?

During maintenance of equipment, things will not be running normally. Safety measures that are in place on a day-to-day basis may need to be improved to take account of the changes.

Let’s take, for example, a pie factory. Most of the equipment is mechanical and usually the factory is running at a constant rate, churning out uniform pies which are checked by staff then packaged and sent on to the shops. A good risk assessment will ask these questions:

  • Do we need to shut down the machinery before checking and repairing it? Is there a safety lock to ensure that the machines will stay off?
  • Will the machinery remain hot for a while after it has been shut down?
  • Do we need to evacuate certain areas if we are doing dangerous work on the machines?
  • Will we need to clean any parts of the machinery (e.g. if flammable liquids are used, they may need to be cleaned before work begins to avoid fire)

Essentially, maintenance often involves a break in routine. And where there is a break in routine, there can easily be mistakes. Professional engineers carry out risk assessments for all kinds of maintenance. This way they know what can go wrong, and can try to make sure everything goes right!

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