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Why putting production over maintenance could lead to disaster

At a glance

  • Well-known UK manufacturer discovered this, to near devastating consequences
  • Firms who operate in this manner, as well as ignore planned maintenance checks, risk long manufacturing delays, brand damage and worker injuries
  • Zurich Engineering provides regular inspections to prevent harmful accidents and long production delays

A well-run business fully understands the value of production and maintenance operating in tandem to ensure the smooth running of a workplace.

However, if production rules the roost, there may well be nasty surprises in store down the line that could cause the temporary closure of a workplace or factory, or, worse, cause serious injury to some of its workers.

That is what one well-known UK manufacturer discovered, to near devastating consequences, when a routine Zurich Engineering inspection found significant deterioration to a local exhaust ventilation (LEV) system above one of its main production lines.

Ventilation systems are vital in protecting the health of many workers in the UK. Businesses that produce dust, mist, fumes, gases or vapours have a duty of care to clean the air of hazardous airborne contaminants that workers breathe in and, in the process, prevent life-threatening conditions such as lung disease or asthma.

Ignoring the warning signs

HSE’s common causes of failure in engineering machinery and plant:

  • Inadequate design and/or material for the loading and operating environment
  • Incorrect and/or defective manufacture
  • Unanticipated in-service deterioration such as corrosion or fatigue cracking
  • System errors in operation or maintenance or over-pressure protection
  • Malfunction of instrumentation, control systems or feed and utility supplies

In its factory, the UK manufacturer had a series of tanks containing various acids that gave off toxic fumes on one of its production lines. However, a failure to report a growing problem to the LEV system in question and delaying planned maintenance a number of times over the year had merely exacerbated the situation.

Its maintenance manager had previously noticed that the area had been getting notably worse over time and that operatives had been complaining of more frequent headaches, but had not been allowed to properly examine the extraction system on production’s orders due to commercial demands.

When Zurich Engineering was finally called to inspect the issue, on examination it immediately closed the production line until remedial work was completed. Further damage to the tank support frames, which had been eaten away by the acidic fumes, was also spotted once work to remedy the situation had started. Near to collapse, a life-threatening disaster was narrowly averted.

It took just under a fortnight to drain the tanks, make new frames and clean out the extraction system, which caused real disruption to the manufacturer as the production line was vital to many parts of the business.

Why should I bother with LEV?

The law says you must control the risks from these substances. Installing LEV may help you to do this.

For more information, read HSE’s Clearing the air: a simple guide to buying and using local exhaust ventilation.

Safety is paramount

Although Zurich understands the pressures of business, this example perfectly illustrates that short-term commercial demands should never get in the way of workplace safety. Businesses should have a preventative maintenance system of regular checks in place to uncover problems before they become serious and should never put off maintenance even if firms feel they can’t shut down a production line, even only for a couple of hours.

If these procedures are not in place, then businesses are under real risk of bringing on even longer manufacturing delays, unwanted costs, brand damage and also worker injuries and deaths.

Image © Getty

For more information, get in touch

John McMullen | Chief Engineer - Zurich Engineering | 07801 135808

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