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Safety incidents and reactive maintenance: a clear connection.

Reactive maintenance is not just an operating problem--it is often a major safety hazard. Reactive maintenance is defined as maintenance work scheduled less than 20 hours before it is executed. There is a strong correlation between safety incidents, injuries, and reactive maintenance. In a reactive situation, maintenance personnel may not take the time they should to plan and think before taking action. The urgent "must be fixed" situation also encourages maintenance crafts people to adopt so called "heroic" measures and take risks they should not take.


During the PIMA International Management Conference held in New York in July 2003, a speaker referred to a study done by one of the major pulp and paper companies. The study concluded that a safety incident was 28% more likely when maintenance work was reactive versus planned and scheduled before execution.

Because of the strong correlation between reactive maintenance and safety incidents and injuries, organizations should use it as a key performance indicator. Measuring the correlation will drive down both safety incidents and the volume of reactive maintenance. This, in turn, will produce increased quality production throughput and lower maintenance costs.

Since December 2003, IDCON has been conducting an online survey on the relationship between reactive maintenance and safety incidents. As of mid January, we can show the empirical data in Figure 1. Please go to to participate in this survey. Click on "Monthly Survey" to answer three simple questions.

The results show that 66% of all respondents estimated that more than 60% of all safety incidents occurred when a maintenance job was executed as reactive. This data include respondents from many industries. Pulp and paper industry personnel represented 36% of all respondents (vertical axis represents number of respondents).

Many maintenance improvement initiatives are too short lived to generate substantial results. One of the major reasons for this is the mobility of top management and the new initiatives that usually follow management changes. This disrupts and confuses organizations. After many repetitions of this scenario people lose faith in new initiatives--even if they are well designed--and will only pretend to implement improvements.

According to the Pulp and Paper Safety Association (, the Total Case Incident Rate per 100 employees per year (TCIR) in the United States has gone down from 8.92 in 1990 to 3.05 in 2002. If we go back 20 years, the results are even more impressive.

Why has the pulp and paper industry produced these results? It is not through better planning and scheduling of maintenance since that is still not being done much better than in 1990. I think the answer is that safety has become a long-term focus for most pulp and paper companies and remains consistent even when top management changes. Another important reason is that safety is being measured and there are often positive or negative consequences based on the results.

My main message is that to go the next step in reducing TCIR, mills must use an important tool--vastly improved planning and scheduling of maintenance. It is too important to ignore and it does not cost much money to improve.

Note: To help me do a better job at addressing the right things in this column, I welcome input from the readers. Please send ideas to attention Christer Idhammar.


Christer Idhammar is president and founder of IDCON INC., Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. IDCON is a consulting company providing worldwide education, training and implementation of better operations and maintenance practices. For more information, go to:

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Title Annotation:Reliability and Maintenance Management
Author:Idhammar, Christer
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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