Pulp and Paper Canada

Maintenance Workers — In the Line of Fire

January 1, 2008  By Pulp & Paper Canada

It is for this reason that maintenance workers in our plants are usually the most vulnerable when things are not running so well. Time is money and when maintenance workers are troubleshooting why the…

It is for this reason that maintenance workers in our plants are usually the most vulnerable when things are not running so well. Time is money and when maintenance workers are troubleshooting why the machine or line is not moving, the organization suffers. At these critical moments maintenance workers are at the most risk of suffering an injury, or worse.

Maintenance workers use their hands and arms in every aspect of their job. How many car mechanics do you know that have gashes on their knuckles? Maintenance workers are no different, being asked to get into a machine and make adjustments, overhaul equipment and replace worn or damaged parts. This is stressful at the best of times, compounded by the fact that nothing is running while all these adjustments, overhauls or replacements are being tended to. Production managers are over their shoulders, creating a sense of urgency that some maintenance workers interpret as a need to rush their tasks, upping the risk and potential for further breakdowns and more trouble.


An easy solution to the problem is purchasing equipment that won’t break down. But is that feasible? With the type of machines in the pulp and paper industry — with their many moving parts — downtime and breakdowns are inevitable.

Preventive Maintenance (PM)

So, what is feasible? What do we need to do to keep our maintenance workers out of the line of fire? Many best practice organizations are looking at preventive maintenance (PM) as a means of limiting downtime and exposure to workers. Case in point, organizations that use preventive maintenance will check roof exhaust fans in the spring and fall months for wear and deterioration and make minor or major adjustments. This limits maintenance workers having to make repairs during the hot summer months in the south or cold winter months in the north. This is a simple example of how preventive maintenance can help limit worker exposure.

Preventive maintenance is planned maintenance of plants and equipment that is designed to improve equipment life, while preventing unplanned maintenance activity. PM includes painting, lubrication, cleaning, adjusting, and minor component replacement to extend the life of equipment and facilities. Done right, it will minimize breakdowns and excessive depreciation. Neither equipment nor facilities should be allowed to go to the breaking point. In its simplest form, preventive maintenance can be compared to the service schedule for an automobile. Preventive maintenance won’t eliminate all exposures for maintenance workers, but it will help reduce them.

Maintenance Worker Education

Skills and knowledge make a competent worker, and maintenance workers must be educated on the effects of strains and sprains, heat and cold stress and other hazards so that they will recognize when it is time to take a break or readjust their position during repair work.

Many organizations are reaping the benefits of allowing their maintenance workers a few minutes in the morning to stretch their muscles and send much needed oxygen throughout the body. With more oxygen in the muscles, there is less chance of strains and sprains, which account for more than 50% of all claims that are recorded through the various compensation systems in North America.

The three major risk factors for strains and sprains are posture, repetition and force. When you think of maintenance tasks, these three risk factors are always present. With the poor postures that maintenance workers find themselves in (trying to loosen a bolt that is under and around a machine, the repetition of adjusting belts and hoses and the force of moving parts or loosening those hard-to-reach bolts) it is no wonder that our maintenance group is always at the top of the injured list.

A Second Look

Can we make changes to the way we look at maintenance in our efforts to lower these injuries? By implementing a sound preventive maintenance program and educating workers to recognize the symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders, heat and cold stress and other hazards, we can chip away at those injuries with the hopes of one day eliminating them completely.

Jerry Traer, Program/Training Specialist and Cindy Hunter, Program/Communications Specialist, work for the Pulp and Paper Health and Safety Association (PPHSA) in Ontario, Canada. PPHSA is a recognized leader in occupational health and safety in the pulp, paper, corrugated and related industries. www.pphsa.on.ca

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