Developing Standard Maintenance Procedures

Bill Hillman

A maintenance program is only as good as its measurement data. Poor data may be worse than no data at all because poor data may lead to the wrong analysis, resulting in working on the wrong thing.

One of the best ways to help ensure good data collection is to have well-written procedures for collecting the data. Plants often fail to see the importance of having well-written procedures for most tasks and especially for tasks seemingly as simple as data collection.

This article covers the importance of having good procedures and presents the details needed to develop well-written standard maintenance procedures.

A standard maintenance procedure is a detailed list of steps that describes how to perform a maintenance task and is also a documented standard to which the job or task should be performed.

All repetitive maintenance tasks should be covered by SMPs, regardless of who performs those tasks, be they craftspeople, contractors or operators.

How does a preventive maintenance (PM) write-up differ from an standard maintenance procedure? The answer: It doesn't. A PM is simply a type of task written into an SMP.


Standard maintenance procedures are the basis of effective and efficient maintenance work.

Why are Standard Maintenance Procedures Necessary?

  • To protect the health and safety of employees.

  • To help ensure that everyone performs a task to the same degree of precision.

  • To save time when performing a task.

  • To help ensure that standards and regulations are met.

  • To minimize the effects of personnel turnover.

  • To increase equipment reliability.

  • To serve as a training document.

  • To help document the equipment management procedure.

  • To help protect the environment.

  • To provide a basis for accident investigation.

What Information Should be Contained in a Standard Maintenance Procedure?

  • Formal title and document number.

  • A statement reading: "Read all of the steps in this standard maintenance procedure before beginning work."

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) required to do the job.

  • All safety and environmental hazards to be aware of while doing the job.

  • A detailed list of steps for performing the job or task.

  • A complete list of tools and materials for doing the job.

  • References to other documents needed to perform the job.

  • Photos and diagrams where needed to explain job steps.

  • Measurements, standards and tolerances in the standard maintenance procedure steps.

  • Any other important information that may help the worker complete the task in a satisfactory manner.

  • A definition of skills required for performing the job.

  • Hours required to perform the job.

  • Number of people required to perform the job.

  • Required frequency of performing the job.

  • Preparation and revision dates.

  • Approval and review signatures.

  • Space to provide feedback as to the accuracy and effectiveness of the standard maintenance procedure.

Feedback is critical to the success of SMPs. In order for SMPs to be effective and accurate, a formal feedback mechanism should be supplied to the job performer. The SMP should be updated when feedback reveals mistakes or more effective ways to perform the job. Poorly written SMPs are unsafe and largely ineffective.

Writing Standard Maintenance Procedures

When writing an SMP, there will always be a trade-off between too much or too little detail. Too much detail will waste resources in writing the SMP and may slow the job by wasting the time of the job performer.

Remember that there is no perfect SMP regardless of how much detail is included. Too little detail and the job may be performed in an unsatisfactory or unsafe manner.

So, what is the proper amount of detail to be included in the SMP? The proper amount of detail will provide for a trained craftsperson (or an operator trained in maintenance skills related to the job) to perform the job, even if that person has not performed the job before.

Who should write standard maintenance procedures?

  • A person who has some training in writing SMPs and who knows his or her company's SMP writing procedure. (Yes, there should be a procedure for writing procedures.)

  • A person knowledgeable about the safety and environmental hazards involved.

  • The writer should seek input from the trained job performer or subject matter experts who will be using the SMPs. It is a good idea to get the job performer to write the rough draft because you will get buy-in from the SMP users. A person is much more likely to use something that they helped to develop as opposed to something that was developed without his or her input.

What are the rules for writing standard maintenance procedures?

  • The burden of written communication is on the writer, not the reader. The goal is to serve the user.

  • The first writing is a rough draft and will need to be reviewed and tried before being published.

  • Use numbered line items and avoid paragraphs (one item per step).

  • Keep wording short and precise.

  • List steps in proper sequence. The job should flow in natural order.

  • Use step check-offs where useful.

  • Have the job performer enter quantitative values; it is even better than check-offs.

  • Target elementary-grade reading level (fourth or fifth grade) if possible, given the nature of the procedure being written. A reading skill commensurate to the minimum qualifications for performing the job itself is assumed.

  • Use graphics where needed to clarify meanings. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

  • Keep verbiage consistent. Don't change equipment names from step to step.

  • Begin each step with a verb if possible. For example: Step 13 - Remove coupling guard.

  • If jobs involve too many steps, break the job into sections such as Motor Removal Section and Gear Unit Removal Section.

Remember to write for safety:

  • Even though safety hazards are listed at the beginning of an SMP, the warnings should be repeated for each hazardous step.

  • Use the word "Warning" to protect against personnel harm and the word "Caution" to protect against equipment harm. For example: Step 23 - Warning! Remove hot slurry line.

Using Standard Maintenance Procedures

It is one thing to develop good SMPs, but quite another to get people to use them. Many companies go to considerable expense to develop SMPs, only to have them stashed away in a file cabinet or stored on a computer where they are never viewed by the job performer.

In these cases, the SMPs are only useful to show the auditors when they come in to evaluate that they exist. With a little effort and personnel training, the SMPs can be put to actual use, adding real value to the company. If you really want people to use the SMPs, require their use and make them easy to access. Attach them to work orders, post at the machine or post at the operator station.

The information in this article can also be used to develop good standard operating procedures (SOPs). Good procedures are important tools and a requirement of any successful reliability process.

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About the Author

Bill Hillman is a technical contributor for Ludeca Inc. As a certified maintenance and reliability professional with more than 30 years in the steel industry and six years in wood products manuf...