What do you think when you read story after story of accidents or disasters that cause the loss of human life or destroy our environment? Some accidents are unavoidable, some are acts of nature for which we have no defense for and some are just the result of being maintenance stupid.

Sadly, stupid maintenance goes well beyond high profile accidents. You can see it every day in virtually all industries including schools, plants, office facilities, hospitals and government facilities just to name a few.

My definition of stupid maintenance is the indifference or incompetence of business owners, government leaders, senior executives, managers and staff to ensure that adequate maintenance on assets is performed in order to safeguard the health and well-being of people and the environment.

Effects of Stupid Maintenance

The effects of poor maintenance planning and execution go well beyond the high profile list of disasters such as the BP Deepwater oil spill or any list that can found using quick internet searches. Poor maintenance programs have a direct impact on everyday businesses and operations. The most common effects are:

  • Increased operating expenses for labor, repairs and energy. This occurs as a result of unexpected asset repairs, overtime and an increase in energy usage by assets struggling to maintain production output.
  • Increased asset downtime for assets. Ranging from heavy industry assets to office equipment. This results in idle staff, dissatisfied customers and lost profits.
  • Higher capital budget expenditures as a result of the shortening of an asset’s lifecycle or the need for emergency asset replacements.
  • Higher risk of liability and fatal or injury accident. Insurance is no excuse for the loss of life or livelihood and it rarely covers complete damages amounts.
  • Environmental damage risk. Every industry has waste and waste disposal issues. It does not take much to contaminate the environment whether it is a mining tailing pond failure, a gas buildup or an electrical fire.

As an example, I wrote about my son’s school having a cooling tower used for their HVAC system that was making loud noises earlier in the year. The school system (nation’s 5th largest) is in financial distress and was not performing adequate maintenance on assets. The unit subsequently broke down soon after the article was written leaving a high school and middle school without HVAC for the school year.

The school system must now replace the unit (sometime next year) at a cost of over a million dollars which is many times more than the cost of preventive maintenance would have been. Stupid maintenance is paying millions and making children/staff suffer to save a dollar in the short-term.

Causes of Stupid Maintenance

As an experienced operations manager it is not difficult to see the causes of poor maintenance programs. It is more difficult to assign accountability and even the best made plans are subject to human error, poor hiring practices or a lack of training.

However, in general it is the administrators, senior executives and business owners who must bear the responsibility of their organizations. With this in mind, the top 7 causes for stupid maintenance are:

Top 6 Reasons for Stupid Maintenance

  1. Financial risk assessment: The most visible reason for stupid maintenance is the one that the press and the public have the most problem with. It is choosing not to perform maintenance on assets either as a result of a:
    • Risk assessment analysis that calculates a benefit/cost ratio. This type of program is only effective for small motors or inexpensive assets that are truly cheaper to replace than repair.
    • Short-sighted objective of improving immediate cash flows by cutting back on overhead/maintenance.
    • Conscious decision to gamble that a major accident or catastrophe won’t occur. From airline disasters to mining disasters these decisions put people’s lives and our environment in jeopardy. It is most commonly called greed, one of the 7 Deadly Sins of Asset Management.
  2. Dependency on one technology or solution: Dependence on technology comes in multiple forms but the most common are:
    • Poor management – no real maintenance planning: Maintenance is not optional for any asset intensive organization. Maintenance just like budgets and sales should be planned with objectives, action plans, benchmarks and rewards. The first step to successful maintenance is a good maintenance planner and plan.
    • Reliance on spreadsheets or a manual system to schedule and record maintenance activity. Not taking advantage of available technology such as an EAM CMMS system or advanced predictive maintenance technologies will result in organizations having exceptionally high operating expenses.
    • An over reliance on one solution such as a maintenance plan that incorporates only reactive or condition based or preventive maintenance or reliability centered based maintenance. Any good maintenance plan will incorporate a mixture of maintenance methodologies for optimal results.
      The over reliance on only one type of maintenance program is often generated by a decision maker with experience or strong beliefs in a particular field. This type of maintenance mindset is narrow minded and leaves the door open to unexpected events.
  3. The building of organizational silos: Building organizational silos refers to the development and separation of an organizations departments, divisions etc. In a typical scenario, maintenance management has a very low visibility with a low financial priority as compared to sales.
    In larger organizations the silo effect can be seen as the functional departments battle each other over resources and territory. Maintenance, which serves all units is lost in the shuffle and not heard from until something breaks. As a result maintenance budget requirements are pushed aside setting the stage for a disaster.
  4. Fire-fighting mentality: This is more common in poorly managed organizations where a lack of time, knowledge, technology and maintenance planning results in maintenance staff fighting one fire after the other. Fire-fighting is called reactive maintenance in that work orders and maintenance/repairs are only done when something breaks down.
    It is a negative cycle that never gets better and is always more expensive than instituting a computerized maintenance management software program (CMMS). Yes I did use the words never and always because I have yet to run across an organization that was able to move away from reactive maintenance without the help of an experienced maintenance manager or CMMS type program.
  5. Lack of training: Accidents often occur as a result of inadequate training. Just like using a CMMS program the cost of training is minimal compared to the consequences of an accident.
  6. Lack of accountability: When maintenance management has limited visibility it becomes difficult to determine the underlying cause of accidents. It also becomes difficult to prove that proper maintenance is being performed and that assets are not being neglected. The result is problems slip through the cracks until they blow up into major issues.
Changing Stupid Maintenance

If, after reading this post you become inspired to make changes in your organization there are a few things that you can do to help your cause. They are listed in generalities here because every industry and organization is different and each should find a solution that works for them.

electronic technical support concept – spanners on computer keyboard

Implementing maintenance change requires thought, planning and an understanding of how to achieve buy-in from critical resources (staff, executives etc.). Some starting goals may be to:

  • Hire or consult a professional maintenance planner.
  • Decide which technology and maintenance methodology mix best suits your organization and needs.
  • Set out short, medium and long-term goals such as reducing backlog by 75%, reducing energy costs by 25% or eliminating overtime and so on.
  • Construct an action plan that will achieve the desired results.
  • Promote or hire open minded people who are will to accept change and can execute the plan.
  • Make stupid maintenance a non-option.

Wow, I look at this post and see one of my longer articles because better operations are one of my passions. No one has all the answers but I hope that you come away with the idea that poor maintenance is a choice but great maintenance is a better choice.