Why is it important to keep workers safe when cleaning and maintaining machinery? 

It is not enough to just turn off the machine.

Many machines have safeguards — such as fixed guards — in place to protect employees when that machine has been used for normal operation or normal production. When you undertake cleaning and maintenance activities, you often have to remove some of those guards, or disable them, to ensure that you effectively clean the machine for the next production run, or for general machine maintenance. 

A lot of machinery is part of a broader process line, and there may be multiple places where it can be started, or where movements are initiated. With regards to machine safety, when people are performing cleaning and maintenance, it’s really important that they go through a proper energy source isolation or lock out. That process involves disabling the energy sources, and then locking them out, so they can’t be re-energised. Next, the sources should be tagged out to inform others in the area of the state of that machine, so they don’t remove padlocks and reinstate movement.

What are the requirements of organisations and keeping employees safe when cleaning and maintaining machinery?

Probably the most explicit requirement is captured under the Health and Safety in Employment Regulations of 1995. A lot of people believe that the Health and Safety in Employment Act and all of the sub regulations have been completely removed with the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, that came in post the Pike River Mine Disaster. But there are some specific clauses that have still been retained. In particular, in section 17 of the Health and Safety in Employment Regulations, they make a very explicit and specific requirement in relation to the cleaning and maintenance of machinery, to make sure that movement is prevented. And that if there is any movement that was required under those tasks of cleaning and maintenance, that there are clear and documented procedures describing how people will be protected. So that’s a key one, and that’s certainly the most explicit requirement in relation to cleaning and maintenance of machinery. 

Cleaning and Maintenance of Machinery

image credit: Pexel

What are the critical elements involved in keeping workers safe that apply to all machinery?

The means to isolate energy sources, and to lock them out. They need to be easily accessible and identifiable. If you have an isolator that’s on the roof and someone has to go and get a ladder to access it, they’re not going to use it. So that’s the first thing. 

The second thing is the Lock Out Tag Out (LOTO) procedure needs to be simple. If it’s convoluted, and takes a long time to do, it’s far more likely that people won’t follow it. So regarding those two elements, you need the right energy source and isolation means available in the right locations, that are engineered to allow for quick and easy isolation.

The third critical element is that it should be made clear to cleaners and anyone performing machine maintenance how they can perform the task with really simple, clear instructions. That should include the use of photos, preferably marked up photos, and very simple instructions. If they are long winded, multi page documents that people have to go and access, it’s unlikely that the guidance will be followed.

The other thing will be to consider, is if you have to move or run the plant/equipment during cleaning and maintenance.  This requires special consideration, and that should be captured within the procedures that you have.

The last two key points are that you need everyone to be suitably provisioned with padlocks, or lockout means, and have someone routinely monitoring the fact that people are completing the lockout process as they should.

So every cleaning and maintenance plan and procedure should consider: 

  • Access
  • Simplicity
  • Clarity, and provision of padlocks and other materials
  • and then finally routine checks.

Further, there needs to be a testing process, people need to verify they’ve locked out the plant and it can’t be restarted. And that testing process should be done by the cleaner or maintainer who has isolated the plant, to make sure that they have isolated the machine appropriately. 

Once the cleaning or maintenance task is complete there needs to be a clear reinstatement process.

Young Man Safely Cleaning a Workshop

image credit: Pixabay

What is the most important aspect of risk management as it relates to cleaning and maintaining machinery?

Identify your energy sources and how you will be isolating them, and possibly implement additional isolation means, so they are easily accessible. So that initial survey, that is the key first part. Identify all of your energy sources, make sure you have accessible isolation means in place, that would be the first step as part of your planning exercise and risk assessment process. Once you’ve done that, that allows you to set up a robust program. 

What can organisations do to better and better protect their employees when cleaning and maintaining machinery? 

Make sure you have accessible, lockable isolators, with very clear procedures on how to carry out that process. 

How does The MinRisk App support the cleaning and maintenance of machinery? 

MinRisk MRA App has a Lock Out Tag Out (LOTO) module in it where it allows systematic evaluation and identification of energy sources. Within that module, you can define your lockout tag out procedure, and it’s really easy to insert informative helpful photos that you can mark up using the IOS photo tools. Within the app, you can produce LOTO cards that are simple and easy to follow, that include these marked up photos that assist / inform the cleaners and maintainers. This feature is great where operators and cleaners may have issues with literacy, or where there might be some language issues, the marked up photos can be very informative. 

Within the app, there are fields that help the assessor evaluate, whether it be a third party assessor such as TEG Risk, there’s a number of fields there that help you evaluate the adequacy of isolation devices and their accessibility, and there’s also an area in the app to record the LOTO procedure, for that energy source. Through the app’s reporting function it will produce a really clear procedure for the cleaners and operators.

Included with that is a dedicated field for recording what the LOTO procedure would be.

Are you interesting in learning more about The MinRisk App? Book a demo today with our team who will get you set up with a free 30 day trial.