Frankly I’m puzzled why others don’t see the parallels between world-class manufacturing and reliability and maintainability and worker safety,” says Phil LaDuke, who taught reliability and maintainability for one of the Big Three auto companies before moving into safety consulting.

He’s not alone. “I really believe in this alignment,” says Doug Pontsler, former vice president of operations sustainability and EHS for Owens Corning. “People who are driving TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) within their organizations use an integrated operating system that includes safety as a core pillar. It was rare for us at Owens Corning to have a facility performing well from a safety perspective that wasn’t also doing great from a productivity, quality and reliability perspective. The vice versa was also true.”

Making the connection

The safety and reliability link is well-established. Consider these comments:

  • Workplace safety is a key enabler of business continuity, operational performance and productivity. Reliability is essential for a safe operation – The SEAM Group
  • Improving the reliability of equipment contributes to a safer working environment. Preventive safety equals preventive maintenance and planned maintenance. Mechanical integrity (reliability) is linked to improved safety and reduced risks. – The DuPont Company
  • “A reliable plant is a safe plant. Increasing planned, proactive maintenance reduces the number of times personnel are put in harm’s way,” says Klaus Blache, director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the University of Tennessee.

LaDuke goes so far as to advocate putting quality, productivity, customer service, process improvement and safety in one department. “These are all the things that suffer if there is a problem in production. Connecting them under one function makes each of these areas more aligned with production goals,” he says.

Eliminating safety vs. production

A reliability-centered safety and health program protects “assets” and “operational integrity” in terms of both people and ensuring machinery. It returns a consistent, predictable result within specified control limits, and has potential to end the age-old productivity versus safety conundrum.

But an obstacle here, according to LaDuke, is that few safety personnel understand reliability as a discipline, and its benefits. These include: reduced unplanned downtime; decreased cycle time; decreased tahk time (the time it takes to produce one completed product and satisfy customer demand); line balancing (ensuring the workload is appropriately distributed between all workstations to avoid wait time and bottlenecks); and less worker fatigue (caused by the start and stop of unreliable equipment, increasing the risk of injuries).

Look at this way: when a packaging machine is no longer operating in a reliable state, many minor stops might cause an operator to reach into a running machine, bypassing safety procedures, and remove jammed cartons or film. His frustration could cause the loss of a finger, hand, or worse.

Or less spending on maintenance could result in more leaking piping or vessels. The operator gives up on keeping the floor clean. The pipes are leaking, and the main process line is acting up. A neglected bearing on a main conveyor causes product to pile up. The operator rushes to clear the pileup. On the way, he slips and falls in the area where the leak has created a puddle on the floor.

Achieving a reliable state

There’s inherent logic to a safety and health program that values and emphasizes equipment and facility reliability, a reliable state, reliability excellence. Most accidents don’t occur when things are running smoothly and equipment has a high level of reliability. Accidents occur when operations fall into reactive and rushed repair jobs. When maintenance, reliability and safety are viewed as necessary evils and lack adequate resources and leadership support. When organizations separate maintenance, reliability, safety, quality, and production into disconnected silos.

“Critical, adequate resourcing of safety and reliability processes need to be identified as non-negotiable total commitments of the organization – core values that don’t change,” says Dr. John Kello, an organizational management consultant.

“The best organizations have moved past the old ‘run to failure’ mode and use proactive strategies to head off equipment failure and accidents,” says Kello. “Skilled tradesmen talk all the time about their preventive and predictive maintenance programs that minimize emergency responses, which they correctly see as inherently hazardous in terms of safe work. But I think a lot of organizations have not integrated safety very well with asset management.”

“As long as safety sits on the sidelines waiting for a body to drop instead of enabling safe production, safety will never realize the benefits of a highly reliable workplace,” says LaDuke.

Constant attention pays off

That integration or alignment must start at the top. Dave O’Reilly, former CEO of Chevron Corporation, sent a letter to employees saying, “Reliability, like safety, is a critical element of operational excellence and requires our constant attention.”

Constant attention pays off. In a study by the University of Tennessee’s Blache, top-quartile North American companies averaged about nine percent reactive maintenance. The North American average for all companies in this 2017 study was 31 percent reactive maintenance. Top-quartile companies (low in reactive maintenance) spent 23 percent of their time finding issues with predictive technologies and condition-based monitoring. These top companies also had a 27 percent better safety performance (OSHA recordable incident rate) that the average of remaining facilities, and recorded a 14-percent better OSHA recordable incident rate than the lower 75 percent of companies.

Culture change

Senior leadership commitment and active support is not the only ingredient necessary for a safety and health program to partner with other departments to protect people and property assets. A policy of shared goals, expectations and accountability must be implemented. This often means a culture change within the organization. “The culture must be tenacious about doing things very well – teamwork, management, engagement, consistent performance, recognition and rewards, collaboration and task interdependence,” says Ron Moore, a reliability expert and recent webinar speaker for Grace Engineered Products.

“Collaboration between safety, production and maintenance is essential,” Moore said in the webinar. “Seventy percent of the opportunities for better reliability exist on the shop floor. You need frontline engagement. Nothing changes until the shop floor does things differently.”

That truism encompasses safety practices, as well as production, maintenance, quality and reliability practices.

Essentials for linking safety & reliability

By Colin Duncan, CEO, The SEAM Group

All too often we see a binary approach where reliability and safety are treated as separate and almost unrelated activities. There are issues here relating to:

  • Organizational competence and knowledge: leaders in the field, perhaps those in process industries and oil and gas, etc., understand that the failure of critical equipment is at the heart of many major safety incidents. They also understand that culture is normalized around expectations of performance (both equipment and people). So the “active” management of reliability and maintenance is, in many respects, a precursor for safety performance, both operationally and culturally.
  • Organizational structure: We do not typically see safety and reliability within a common management framework. This is not necessarily an issue, but we do need common governance, communication and calibration across safety, reliability and maintenance programs and people.

Common metrics, data analysis and improvement plans will not happen without it. A management system is also key to this.

Regarding reactive and proactive approaches, when we have common and aligned programs that proactively identify hazards, risk and potential failures, we can establish operational frameworks to manage and mitigate.

The tools and methods exist to do this in reliability, PM/PdM and safety. Whether it’s a FMEA or a HAZOP or a PTHA, we have a set of tools we should look at as sitting alongside each other.

The direction of operational leadership is key here. Having a leading indicator dashboard showing these metrics for safety, risk, hazards, maintenance, reliability and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) in one place should be complemented by the operations staff understanding the interrelationships of these measures.

Doing some of the things I’ve outlined here drives engagement. We know that maintenance will see safety every day, and that front line staff see reliability issues each day. I think pre-shift briefings maybe should integrate safety and uptime to address the reality of decision-making and taking action.

A Dissenting Opinion

By Corrie Pitzer, CEO, SAFEmap International

On this topic of aligning safety with reliability and maintenance I have a different view, and it is a strong view. I believe if you equate safety with other functions in the business -- reliability, maintenance, etc. you are placing safety alongside of these other functions.

Safety should be integrated within an organization, I firmly believe that.

But I’m very cautious about demonstrating the financial benefits of safety. If you have Less accidents, you have less costs, and now you’re equating accidents and costs. Now you’re equating the life of people with a financial value instead of a moral value. I have always moved away from that direction.

I know safety people try to sell line management on deriving financial rewards-- “Here are the benefits of safety.” I think this is dangerous. Because now we are trivializing safety. This is the biggest downside of the whole “selling safety” notion. We can very easily trivialize safety as a business function, an outcome, a process with a functional responsibility, and that’s the outcome we will get.

I believe in embedding safety so deeply in the organization that the ideal organization does not have safety meetings, safety points on the agenda, even if safety is the first point. You are compartmentalizing safety into activities, processes in the business. This absolutely goes against my idea of “deepsafe,” which is to make safety invisible.

If we say we have lower accidents, lower injuries, lower everything, we might think we’re safe. But “deepsafe” that I prorogate says the organization is not safe when it has no accidents. It is not safe when it even has zero in everything. There is the deeper level of safe, which is the integrity of the organization in terms of processes. The risk exposures that exist in organizations — even near misses — are all not indicative of the condition of safe.