How can predictive maintenance promote plant safety?

November 28th, 2016

Factory managers have a number of items to worry about: deadlines, productivity, profitability, efficiency and uptime, just to name a few. But all those concerns pale in comparison to the most important item in any workplace, particularly the plant: safety. Not only is workplace safety crucial from a basic, human perspective, but it also benefits all the aforementioned considerations. Ultimately, when workers are safe, everything runs a lot more smoothly.

As it happens, the right plant maintenance strategy can actually have a significant positive impact on safety culture. Why is reliability centered maintenance such a boon to safe practices?

Machine function
First and foremost, it's bad industry practice to have employees working with machines that have entered the beginning stages of failure. While downtime is a concern, it's more problematic when assets behave erratically – especially those involving heavy parts or electricity. In many cases, failure modes are not necessarily visible or audible to the untrained ear or eye, making any sudden accident difficult to anticipate. Predictive maintenance allows technicians to monitor the equipment on an ongoing basis and schedule repairs before issues become hazards, keeping workers safe from harm.

Ultrasound tools are a stable for facilities implementing reliability centered maintenance – they function well as entry-level tools or advanced equipment, depending on the need. These are non-invasive, user-friendly items, as well, so technicians are out of harm's way during maintenance routes. For plants hoping to improve safe practices and maintenance techniques, ultrasound probes are a good place to start and address both needs.

Predictive maintenance benefits plant safety.Predictive maintenance benefits plant safety.

Preventing downtime
Remember, plant maintenance is about preventing unplanned downtime. When an employee suffers an injury, that's the worst kind of downtime. You can repair a machine, but workers are a different story. In the event of a plant safety incident, you lose manpower, may have to shut down a portion of the factory, and might incur fines and audits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In this way, facility maintenance is as much about keeping your workers safe and productive as it is about maintaining asset health – in fact, even more so.

For example, Ron Moore, managing partner of the RM Group, Inc., cited one five-year study from a major manufacturer with over 10 plants worldwide. The results indicated a clear correlation between injury rate and plant productivity: As workplace injuries became less commonplace, factory productivity improved. To take that a step further, a chemical manufacturer conducted a seven-year study focusing on predictive maintenance work orders and plant safety. The findings were similar: As PdM orders per year steadily increased, the injury rate fell.  

From a higher level, anything that builds routine into the daily plant functions can promote safety. Think of it this way – confusion can create chaos. When people aren't on the same page, accidents happen more readily. The best reliability centered maintenance programs require specific schedules, maintenance routes, communication and defined roles.

Consider this example – a piece of machinery that relies on electricity is in a failure mode. Instead of waiting for the item to fail completely and potentially malfunction, putting the operator at risk of electric shock, predictive maintenance technicians can identify the problem, issue a repair notice and lock the machine until the correct actions have occurred. That's a two-for-one scenario: avoiding downtime and, more importantly, keeping workers safe.

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