Is reliability related to worker safety?

Sadly, each year, many workers are injured, some fatally, on the job. There are many reasons for this.

When we fix some of the root causes of maintenance-oriented injuries and fatalities - whether they are caused by behavior, culture, design, process or procedure, more workers will go home, whole and intact, to their families.

With maintenance work, it is essential to have a safe culture on the job, and this needs to be nurtured from the top of the organization. Environmental safety and health thrive in environments where management is involved at every step - from the initial design, to the process and procedures, and even to the hiring of qualified operators and maintenance personnel.

Equipment Reliability

Let’s focus on the reliability of equipment.

In operations and maintenance, a culture of expediency can contribute to procedures not being followed, design flaws and workers not being careful. With all that goes on, it is easy to see that non-standard situations can also occur.

Some accidents in operations and maintenance are the result of unsafe acts. For example, working under a truck that is improperly lifted, or failing to follow procedures when pressure testing with personnel in harm’s way.

Most accidents like these have several causes that converge at the same time, although these may not be readily evident. But if we scrutinize maintenance-related incidents, we can see a relationship between reliability and environmental health and safety.

Relationship 1: Something was broken and had to be repaired. The breakdown caused the person to go into harm’s way to make the repair. So, lack of reliability can cause death and injuries.

Reliable equipment removes this common cause of accidents. Equipment operating as designed does not require people to work on it.

The best solution to a hazard is to eliminate it.

Relationship 2: The size and scope of a repair is smaller due to PMs, making for safer repairs.

Exxon-Mobil studied its maintenance-related accidents and found: “Accidents are five times more likely while working on breakdowns then they are while working on planned and scheduled corrective jobs.”

High reliability implies an effective PM program that catches deterioration before it causes a failure. This gives managers more time to plan and deal with hazards. And since the asset is not yet broken, it is safer to work on.

Relationship 3: Planned jobs allow fewer opportunities for the maintenance worker to improvise. Improvisation is statistically less safe than doing the job with the correct tools and parts.

One of the building blocks of a reliable culture is adequate maintenance planning. Without planning, workers are forced to make do with what parts and tools they can find. To do their job, they may have to improvise to make things work.

While improvisation might be great in the theater, it can be deadly in maintenance.

Action Items

Several management actions need to happen to transform a maintenance operation to an effective safety culture. These require minor modifications to the weekly and monthly Key Performance Indicators used to run a facility, and for determination of bonuses.

  1. The ratio of emergent maintenance work to planned and scheduled maintenance work should be maintained above 80 percent planned and scheduled.
  2. PM performance needs to be above 95 percent. More than 95 percent of the PMs generated need to be completed in +10 percent of the PM interval, or 30-day PMs need to be completed in between 27 and 33 days.
  3. Scheduled compliance needs to be above 85 percent. In other words, more than 85 percent of the jobs scheduled are completed sometime the week they are scheduled.
  4. The mean time between failures for major assets needs to be on an improving trend.

Basic Measures

If your operation doesn’t measure up, it is time to talk through the problems, study your best operations and consult with experts.

Keep in mind, however, that changing a culture takes time and will require four elements:

  • Follow-through to keep people’s eye on the goals.
  • Resilience to get the facility back on track when the program goes off the track.
  • Maintaining a positive, encouraging attitude.
  • Not punishing honest mistakes. Instead, make sure your people learn from their missteps.

Joel Levitt has trained over 6,000 maintenance leaders from over 3,000 organizations. Since 1980, he has been the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues.