Keys for keeping control of work-order priorities

by on November 15, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Just imagine it: You have so many resources that you don’t have to worry which safety hazard should be fixed first!

Nice pipe dream, huh? Yes. But in real-world companies, somebody has to choose among competing work orders.
And that puts a sinking feeling in the stomach of most Safety Directors. The stakes are high: One manager wants a damaged conveyor fixed immediately. Another manager wants someone to “take a look” at the rigging today, too.

Hold on, I’m coming
Whichever choice is made, the company is betting equipment will hold out long enough “until maintenance can get to it.”

How can you help make sure maintenance gets work-order priorities correct – and avoid unnecessary risk? We talked to several safety directors and came up with three keys:

1. Make sure you’ve got a priority structure
When production supervisors, maintenance staffers and you are figuring out priorities, you know there’s a tendency for the conversation to go around and around. It’s easy to lose the forest for the trees.
For example, Joe in production argues that some machine guards are damaged. Sam says, yes, but we’ve got a clear OSHA violation in how the company is storing compressed-gas cylinders.

How do you choose? One best practice is to have an agreed structure of priorities. Here’s a suggested order:

  • Immediate threat. Basically, if this isn’t fixed right away, someone will get hurt or killed. Example: The respirators for a known-hazardous confined space aren’t working.
  • Likely threat. Someone’s likely to get hurt or killed. Example: You’ve got employees working near an open, unguarded elevator shaft. Workers might avoid the hazard – for a while.
  • An OSHA or building code/fire code violation that’s likely to cause an injury. Example: A piece of equipment that workers say gives their hands a “buzzing” or numbing sensation. It’s an OSHA violation under the General Duty clause, and probably will cause a major shock later.
  • An OSHA or code violation that’s not likely to cause an injury. Example: Overloading an extension cord when you have a Ground Fault Interrupter system. Chances are, there’s not going to cause an injury, but it does need to be fixed.
  • Other things that need to get done.

2. Get everyone’s buy-in
The best priority structure won’t be effective if you don’t get buy-in from senior management, production supervisors and maintenance staffers.

One place to do that is on the safety committee. If everyone’s represented, it gives each group a chance to hash out what needs to be done and in what order – using the suggested structure.

Key: Get at least one maintenance staffer on the safety committee – preferably the boss. That person can give valuable perspective about the real nature of the hazards and the condition of equipment, and probably has their own ideas about priorities.

And that person also can get buy-in from the rest of his or her staff. One company we know struggled getting work-orders filled in the “right order” until a maintenance worker began attending every safety committee meeting.

3. get help for maintenance
Finally: Some organizations rely too heavily on maintenance staff. When possible, enlist help. Decide what should always be reserved for maintenance (lockout/tagout, perhaps) and what others can do.

Among other things, that will allow maintenance staffers to focus more on high-priority work. For example, you can train a forklift operator to do the basic maintenance, e.g., replace a horn when it’s not working (that’s an OSHA violation, but not necessarily an immediate threat).

But watch out: Make sure everyone knows what they can repair and when they need to wait for a work order – or to check with their supervisor first when they want to take initiative.

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