Although the COVID-19 crisis is still unfolding, senior business leaders are now primarily focused on ensuring workplace safety and identifying cost-cutting opportunities to offset declining revenues. With the reduction in production activity, these leaders may be tempted to abandon their maintenance protocols and target their maintenance budgets. However, this approach could have significant “unintended consequences” on asset performance and result in unplanned downtime and an inability to respond to customer needs when the recovery returns.
By Mark Munion
Simply reducing the maintenance budget without a clear understanding of what maintenance protocols and strategies will be required in order to maintain asset effectiveness is a high-risk strategy. Arbitrarily decreasing or eliminating preventive maintenance activities can have a detrimental effect on overall plant reliability and performance. When the maintenance budget is reduced, you are left with the following options:
- The identical amount of maintenance work will now have to be performed more efficiently.
- Some maintenance work will have to be deferred.
- Some maintenance work will have to be eliminated.
Deferring or eliminating maintenance work poses extraordinary challenges, and the stakes are astronomically high. This only prolongs or exasperates the discrepancy to the point you may need to actually replace the asset, which is far more costly than repairing the asset. The most practical and cost-effective strategy is to utilize active supervision to not only ensure a safe working environment, but to also execute the maintenance work required to assure the performance of the plant, and do so more effectively and efficiently.
Active supervision requires dedicated attention by comprehending the scheduled maintenance activities, assigning specific team members to the scheduled work, setting expectations, and then following-up in the field to not only provide guidance, but also to identify and eliminate or minimize any barriers to success. It compels the need to consistently monitor maintenance technicians and contractors to confirm they are executing the work in a proper and safe manner with no environmental impacts to the plant or the local community. It’s vital to a continuous improvement process to maintain safety, increase efficiencies, and improve results.
Release the Maintenance Front-Line Supervisors
The Maintenance Front-Line Supervisors (FLSs) are critical to active supervision and to ensure that maintenance activities are executed effectively, safely, and efficiently. Unfortunately, they are typically burdened by administrative tasks and meetings. The Maintenance Manager and the rest of the leadership team are often oblivious to the lack of active supervision in the field. Over time, this can lead to erosion from a proactive to reactive culture.
Albert Einstein said, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” With the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the perfect opportunity for the leadership team to reevaluate the organization’s maintenance processes and, if required, hit the reset button. Now is the time to “dust off” and release the Maintenance FLSs to focus their true talents and efforts on the active supervision of the maintenance team rather than on administrative tasks, meetings, and other non-value-added distractions. Although it may appear comforting to have them in meetings, their true value is out in the field ensuring that assets are maintained in a proactive and cost-effective manner.
Breaking down any established organizational silos will be vital. The Maintenance FLSs must work together as a team and with their peers in Operations, Engineering, Environmental Health & Safety, etc. The leadership team sets common business objectives across all departments. When the objectives of all people across all departments are aligned, they are more likely to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate. Operations can’t produce the throughput demanded if the assets are not properly maintained. Likewise, Maintenance will be unable to properly maintain assets without the cooperation of Operations. Due to COVID-19, the stakes are very high and the margin of error is thin. Now is the time to achieve true cross-functional cooperation in the plant.
Well-Being, Health, and Safety Awareness
Until a COVID-19 vaccine is readily available, there will be heightened reliance on employers to assure the well-being, health, and safety of their workforce, which will be paramount to resuming normal business operations. Employees and contractors must submit to and participate in health test monitoring throughout their workday and practice new hygiene and social distancing behaviors. In addition to their normal roles, Maintenance FLSs will be required to continuously and compassionately monitor their employees and contractors for signs or symptoms of sickness, which cannot be accomplished in an office setting or while attending a meeting – they must be in the field to actively make these important observations and to act upon them where required.
Eventually, like all crises, the COVID-19 pandemic will end. As businesses gradually resume operations, senior leadership will be under considerable pressure to control costs and may be tempted to target the maintenance budget. However, indiscriminately reducing, deferring or eliminating maintenance activities can be detrimental to productivity and survival in the long-term. Take advantage of this tremendous opportunity to rededicate your Maintenance FLSs efforts on active supervision in the field to ensure maintenance activities are executed safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively.