Will you be the next BP?: How to avoid a catastrophe at your plant

Jeff Shiver

From news reports on the Congressional testimony, BP, Transocean, Halliburton and Cameron are all pointing fingers and trying to shift the blame for the blowout that set fire to Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. At some point, we may know the real root causes that created this disaster. As it should be, this disaster is destined to become another textbook case study that you will be hearing about for the next 15 years or more on the industrial front.

If you haven’t already begun to reflect on how a crisis situation could affect you, you had better start giving it some serious consideration. While you may not be at the level to testify at Congressional Hearings, if your CEO is forced into this situation, you best believe that you will be feeling the pressure down at your management level and beyond. Remember, the stuff always rolls downhill. For what may be years to come, all of these companies are and will be getting a lot of “help” from people that they aren’t really prepared to have poking around in their world. In addition to Congress, they have federal authorities like the Coast Guard, and the Minerals Management, hordes of attorneys that represent the companies and those impacted, and the news media. There is even an article on the Washington Post Web site entitled “How to sue an oil company”, where an attorney who represented Native Alaskans after the Exxon Valdez oil spill tells all. He notes that there were 10 million pages of documents used for the court case. You can believe that included tons of maintenance information, such as snapshots from the controls DCS system, failure modes and effects analyses, and CMMS records like preventive and predictive maintenance activities, repair costs, material issues, and work order histories.

OK, so your company is not BP… I hear you saying, “Jeff, this scale of thing couldn’t happen to us.” Don’t be naïve; all it takes is one attorney or journalist to unleash your own nightmare. While you may not have the scale or commodity to unleash an environmental disaster over the Gulf of Mexico and possibly the Atlantic Ocean, your organization is at risk no matter what you do. I encourage you to go back and read this article where People and Processes was involved in providing expert analysis to determine the levels of maintenance that occurred in a manufacturing facility before the sale of the facility to another company. I can almost guarantee that the prior maintenance group never thought that the CMMS data would be reviewed and used in a court of law.

Now that I heightened your awareness, let’s give you some thoughts to consider. Do you have processes in place to determine the root causes for equipment downtime and quality issues? I trust you have them already for health, safety and environmental issues. The questions you should be asking in addition to “do the processes exist?” should include “What do you do with the output or findings?” Are you inspecting and auditing to make sure identified actions happen and that you resolved the issues? Are you doing autopsies on failed components? Do you truly understand how and why the item failed? I’m not just talking about the ones that have painful consequences, but the lesser ones, too.

For the BP/Transocean blowout preventer, there are 260 failure modes. Have you taken the time to do failure modes and effects analyses on your equipment? Just because you have identified the failure modes doesn’t mean the right maintenance is being done to ensure the item doesn’t fail. Do your proactive maintenance practices look for and address those failure modes? Are you inspecting to make sure the processes are working and the work is not pencil-whipped? Is the work done at a precision level? How do you know? Are you relying on tribal knowledge for the answer?

Does your CMMS/EAM accurately reflect the work done along with materials and labor used, and the costs of the repair? Do you have a CMMS code that identifies corrective actions resulting from proactive maintenance activities? In other words, does the PM/PdM program add value? Are you capturing all of the work in the CMMS? Is the work completed in a timely fashion once identified or does it linger based on funding levels, etc?  Are checklists in place for operations to ensure correct equipment operation? Are those checklists followed? Does continuous improvement and optimization happen based on data from the CMMS?

The bottom line is that YOU need to put on a different pair of glasses and look at your organization, processes and inspections like a government regulator or, better yet, an attorney who is out to make a killing on your mistakes or missed opportunities. Take nothing for granted. Everything matters, even the little stuff that can add up in series to become a much larger issue. This is where the inspections and audits come in. Make the time to dig deeper with these glasses on. You may be surprised at what you find. If you don’t find anything, you aren’t looking hard or deep enough. If you don’t know what steps to take or how to get there, get help. Don’t be the next “breaking news”.

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About the Author

As a managing principal for People and Processes, Jeff Shiver helps organizations implement best practices for maintenance and operations. Prior ...