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Thursday, September 3, 2009


Rod O’Connor. Mast. MM.

We have all heard how people say that planned work is safer than working reactively. If we were to explore this scenario by role-playing a day in the life of two organisations; one that is planned and in control versus the other that is a highly reactive business.

But first, when we say “reactive”, what does this really mean? In short, reactive maintenance is characterised by practices such as running the equipment until it fails and very little preventative maintenance performed. The maintenance department predominantly works on breakdowns and are usually in emergency crisis for the majority of their time. Its common characteristics are that it is unplanned and urgent. A more stringent view of reactive maintenance is work you didn't plan to do on a Monday morning, but had to do before the next Monday.

Let us visualise the scenario of a Monday morning in the life of the two organisations, one planned and the other reactive. The organisation that is planned will have a fair proportion, around 80% (if they are very good), of their week’s work planned and scheduled. They know that they have a fairly hazardous job to complete on a specific day of the week, which involves the use of contractors working at heights and in a confined space. The planner, who is trained in the procedures of confined space work and has planned many a confined space job, has all the necessary steps prepared, including an agreed off-line duration with production. The isolation has been planned, the risks associated with the job have been assessed and control measures put in place. All the necessary labour, materials and equipment are ready – i.e. gas monitors (to monitor the atmosphere), safety and rescue gear (bottled air, harnesses, davits, etc). He has pre-organised the relevant safety personnel to be on standby for the job – i.e. a safety person trained in first aid, the company’s rescue people have been notified of the pending job, etc. Everyone is fairly confident as to the safe execution of the job.

By contrast, the reactive organisation will not know what work will surface during the course of the week. As bad luck would have it, they are off to a bad start already with several breakdowns consuming all of their labour. Just when they thought things could not get any worse, they get a call to tell them that the plant has stopped due to a major breakdown in which repairs are required within a confined space. Most of their fitters are trained in confined space procedures, be it no one tradesman utilises their skills regularly. They have to improvise and shuffle a couple of jobs around to tackle this higher priority job. Nothing is prepared so they set about organising the job, all the time whilst the plant should be running, so they are under a fair bit of pressure to get things on-line again.

The second scenario may seem a little dramatic, but in reality, this is what actually happens in reactive organisations. Inefficiencies aside, if there were to be an accident within one of the above scenarios, it is a fair bet that it would be in the organisation that is reactive.

A recent survey Reliability and Maintenance II: Safety and Reactive Maintenance (n.d.), supports the above statement in that it claims 66% of all respondents from various organisations estimated that more than 60% of incidents occurred when a maintenance job is executed reactively.

So if you are passionate about improving the reliability within your business and having trouble convincing upper management as to the benefits, then make sure that you articulate the ties to safety and reliability. A safe business is a reliable business is a profitable business. You cannot have one without the others.