In a recent industry survey, respondents attributed more than 20 percent of their unscheduled downtime to operator error. Since these respondents used canned answers as choices in their responses, it's not surprising that the finger was pointed in the other direction. But what about maintenance error?

I've got a dirty little secret to share with you. More than 70 percent of failures are self-induced, and upward of 40 percent of that number is human error. There's plenty of blame to distribute across all functions (engineering, maintenance, operations, purchasing, quality and management).

In the book "Don't Just Fix It, Improve It! A Journey to the Precision Domain," the authors equate behaviors with 84 percent of failures. With these numbers being so high, don't you think we should do something about them?

There are two key components that can help you develop a strategy to address these bad behaviors. The long-term focus must be on defect elimination in order to achieve the precision domain. This will be discussed later. In the short term, the focus should be on standardized work.

Standardized Work

It's amazing how many organizations rely on what I call "tribal knowledge." They don't have any operations checklists or startup and shutdown procedures. Maintenance has no traceable basis for the preventive maintenance (PM) tasks they have chosen. Often, tasks are written at a macro level, i.e., "check pump." Check it for what? Corrective job plans rarely exist, or if they do, they seldom contain details such as clearances, torque, belt tension, etc. Without standardized work, there is no expectation of performance or behavior. How can you build these processes and procedures?

Defect Elimination

From a defect elimination perspective, you must create small groups that are empowered to take action and fix things. If you were to ask an operator or mechanic, most of the time he or she could tell you exactly what the problem is or at least point to symptoms of the root causes. The problem is no one asks, and they don't feel qualified to address it themselves, so the problems continue. Empower these small action teams to fix errors in procedures and improve the items identified as failure modes. People buy in to what they help create.

What is your strategy for preventing equipment failures and reducing unscheduled downtime? Please share your thoughts and questions so everyone can learn.