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Chemical risk in industrial subcontracting for the maintenance

Maintenance is devoted to keep the industry running in the best possible shape, making equipment reliable, productive, and secure to operate.

The maintenance function has historically been thought of as a necessary cost of doing business. However, new technologies and innovative practices have positioned the maintenance to be an integral part of the overall profitability of many businesses. Solid, modern maintenance techniques and practical approaches have the potential for significantly increasing competitive advantages in the global market.

Industrial maintenance includes the checking of equipment in order to anticipate any dysfunctions, but also the cleaning to ensure the good functioning as well as the repairing if any failure is detected.

Examples of maintenance operations in manufacturing companies:

  • Maintenance of production equipment and instruments (pipes, pumps, tanks, machine motors, ovens for example in the food industry…)
  • Maintenance of batteries (forklift, batteries room),
  • Maintenance for stainless steel welding,
  • Maintenance of wastewater treatment installations,
  • Maintenances of trucks (for transport of chemicals, milk in the food industry for example…)

Chemical risk

For the checking and repairing operations, the risk can be linked to various chemicals present on site. For instance, a common accident occurs when an operator is checking empty pipes, valves and is contaminated by residues of chemicals. Another risk can be seen during the maintenance of batteries because of sulphuric acid (splash or even explosion), for the maintenance of wastewater treatment installations (presence of acids, bases, bleach…), as well as with passivation paste (containing hydrofluoric acid) for stainless steel welding.

Cleaning operations also represent a risk in terms of chemical accidents, and more particularly the industrial chemical cleaning. The chemical cleaning aims at removing all types of deposits on metallic surfaces such as pipes or tanks, by using chemical solutions inside the installation that has to be cleaned. Caustic soda is commonly use for cleaning tanks, or dairy trucks in the food industry.

Besides the chemical hazard, the working conditions of the maintenance team can be difficult when doing the maintenance of machines and pipes high up, cleaning inside tanks, or working by oneself, which increases the difficulty to act rapidly and in good conditions in the event of an accident. Moreover, maintenance people are often confronted to several chemicals and sometimes, are not even aware of the real chemical risks they deal with.