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Safety concerns follow rise in maintenance calls

The increasing amount of refurb-​ishment and maintenance work brought about by the slowdown in the new-build market is raising health and safety concerns.

Almost 30 per cent of work-related fatalities are linked to maintenance work, according to the Health & Safety Executive.

In July, six out of 34 prosecutions for health and safety offences were also linked to refurbishment and maintenance projects.

A Europe-wide safety campaign led by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work and translated into 22 languages was launched to tackle the issue, after it was revealed that most European countries have a similar problem with maintenance safety.

“Much maintenance work is reactive, which means there is often less time to plan the job,” said HVCA technical and safety officer Russell Mott.

“Planning is crucial to minimise safety risks and it is important to create a culture of safety within an organisation so that operatives having to rush to sites at short notice already have a structure in place.”

He added: “The M&E industry has been given due recognition for getting to grips with safety issues on building sites, where it is easier to plan and manage risk, but there is a lot more to be done in the maintenance and refurbishment sector.”

He said the HSE’s 5 Step Plan for safe maintenance work was now at the heart of HVCA communications with its members.

Maintenance workers are exposed to a great variety of hazards, including noise, vibration, excessive heat and cold, working in awkward and confined spaces, chemical hazards including asbestos, the threat of crushing and falls from height, according to the HSE.

“Employers have a moral duty to protect the safety and health of staff in every aspect of their work,” said Cofely’s David Spilsbury.

“They should do more than just meet their legal obligations; going beyond compliance creates a supplier differentiation, which helps to win and retain business.”

Getting maintenance wrong can also have financial implications, leading to loss of income, fines, the costs of legal action,  a reduction in business productivity and damage to reputation, he added.

Bob Murdoch, of safety equipment supplier Spanset, said: “We urge contractors to adopt control measures. First, ask if you actually need to work at height at all – could you use collective measures, for example?

“Using safety equipment should be a last resort, not the first decision you make.”