Abstract This paper presents the main factors which have an influence on the lifetime of structures, especially when working in difficult conditions such as high loadings and temperatures and extremely aggressive environmental conditions. The importance of the quality of the design process is described. An example of the influence of low quality constructional work on the lifetime of a structure is also shown. Methods of inspection and monitoring as important components in the maintenance of a petroleum refinery are presented. Also it is proved that the liability at every level of production influences the extension or shortening of the lifetime of structures. The confirmation of this influence is presented in such examples as the collapse of the highest mast in the world (Poland, 1991) and the failure state of the dam on the Vistula river.