Safe Return-to-Service Following a Maintenance Outage

Best Practices for a Safe Return-to-Service Following a Maintenance Outage
Charles M. McClung, MarTek Limited
Russell R. Safreed, PE, MarTek Limited

Abstract

Returning electrical equipment to service after a planned maintenance outage creates a unique set of hazards. Facility managers are under stringent time constraints for taking the system out of service, performing necessary maintenance tasks (as well as making un-anticipated repairs) and returning the system to service by the appointed time. These common, real-world factors may create circumstances that place workers at great risk as the system is returned to service. This paper seeks to identify those initiating factors and develop logical and practical ways to lessen or eliminate risks.

It’s all a setup, with good intentions.

Most well-run, progressive-minded companies readily accept the fact that their electrical distribution system is fundamental to the operation of their facilities. Maintaining the electrical is not an option—it is a ‘must’, not merely from a continuity of operations perspective, but also from a loss prevention perspective. Delaying the restart of a manufacturing process after a planned maintenance outage because of ‘schedule creep’ or ‘scope creep’ can be costly. Extended outages caused by major equipment failure can be devastating.

As important as these economic factors are, the prevention of a life-altering injury or death trumps all economic incentives. However, few would disagree that protecting people is also another form of loss prevention. Aside from the moral responsibility that is incumbent on employers to protect their workers, the failure to adequately protect people will likely result in significant economic losses in the form of OSHA fines, medical payments, higher worker’s compensation premiums and litigation.

Electrical maintenance outages are high-stress for everyone concerned. The Plant Manager just wants it to be over so operations may be returned to normal as soon as possible. The Electrical Distribution Engineer wants the greatest amount of work possible to be done in the allotted time to help ensure he never has to answer to the Plant Manager for an unplanned outage. The Maintenance Crew wants to be thorough and do a good job, but they also know the criteria for deeming the job ‘well done’—returning the system to operation on-time and with just enough ‘bad news’ about the condition of the equipment to justify the expense of the outage, but with not so much ‘bad news’ that a re-start is delayed or that significant repairs would be necessary.

All of these real-world pressures and sometimes competing objectives can produce a high-risk condition when the time comes to re-energize the electrical system following a planned maintenance outage.

Three major categories of risk-creating scenarios will now be explored. READ MORE