Why aren’t we treating critical maintenance controls in the same way as critical safety controls?
By Colin Sheldon
The mining industry is well versed in identifying hazards (financial, health and safety, environmental or otherwise), ranking them in terms of likelihood and consequence, listing mitigating controls, and assigning these to personnel to be implemented.
In some cases, there is a closed loop to ensure once those actions are complete they are recorded as such. However, this typical risk management process does not address a very important component of the system – how the mitigating controls will be monitored to ensure their effectiveness.
Bluefield recently attended a risk management workshop, which called for participants to list how they were going to monitor critical controls. Reviewing the outputs, it was clear the monitoring step held a common theme: it was up to peer, supervisor, and management inspections to ensure controls were in place.
Recently, in the safety space, mines have introduced different versions of peer engagement and safety interaction tools. Mine sites have identified their ‘critical controls’, which keep people safe and have implemented programs to ensure these critical controls are in place and working (typically via an inspection by senior management).
Bluefield has also seen a system labelled “check the checker” where a second pair of eyes oversees critical control assessments/inspections to add another checkpoint to ensure effectiveness of the controls. These multiple layers of ‘defence’ are about people keeping people safe – they are about the culture of the teams at work.
In the maintenance world, we can draw very strong parallels with these findings. Our maintenance checks are essentially the controls to ensure unwanted failure (component, system, etc) does not occur, or so we act if a defect or developing failure is detected. Sometimes these failures themselves are safety critical and the associated preventative maintenance inspections would be considered critical controls. One obvious example involves checks to prevent mobile equipment fires, which can have disastrous outcomes for life and property.
Too often our maintenance workshops aren’t set up to enable such positive and thorough interaction between trades, their peers and their supervisors. The growing workload for supervisors to be the breakdown planner, administration, human resources and data entry clerk takes away from their fundamental role – to supervise the work being performed. This supervision takes the form of ensuring the work order has been filled out in its entirety (i’s dotted and t’s crossed) with the signature marking the work as satisfactory much too often. Supervisors put their faith in the worker doing a quality job, but it is the second pair of eyes in control at different stages of the job who the organisation is really counting on.
Challenging the quality of work is also a difficult conversation to have, especially in an environment which is not used to this (positive) conflict. Bluefield’s Transformation work lends itself to introducing a healthy level of confrontation and conflict, which betters the quality of maintenance and adapts people’s way of thinking to be more open to constructive feedback or questions.
At the workshop Bluefield attended, participants were challenged to think about how the implemented controls could be monitored more easily and in a better fashion. Process environments already use technology to monitor critical setpoints, while automation is likely to reduce hazard exposure and monitor controls more easily. Ultimately, you need people looking out for others and having respectful challenging conversations to guarantee a safe result.