Speaker Spotlight

Speaker Spotlight: Safety, reliability and maintenance: 7 steps to optimize performance


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The three critical functions driving operational performance excellence are reliability, maintenance and safety. Aligning these three core disciplines is a fresh approach to safety leadership that will take safety to the next level.

Why align reliability, maintenance and safety? Unifying these functions maximizes asset availability, minimizes unplanned maintenance, makes the most efficient use of capital and optimizes production output, all while operating safely – preventing asset loss and, critically, harm to people.

Here are seven steps essential to achieving alignment:

  1. Calibrate goals. Leaders and stakeholders should understand that the goals and metrics of reliability, maintenance and safety are complementary and do not conflict with each other. Reliability identifies and manages asset reliability risks that can adversely affect operations. Three smaller, more manageable roles come into play here: asset loss elimination, risk management and life cycle asset management. Predictive and preventive maintenance also key in on eliminating loss (equipment failure), managing risk (the probability and severity of failure), and maximizing equipment life cycles. Safety, of course, emphasizes eliminating lost time as a result of injuries, as well as product loss, property loss, environmental damage and capital loss. Calibrating these goals has a common foundation: eliminating or mitigating adverse events that degrade equipment, quality and safety performance.
  2. Understand tools and methodologies. Generally speaking, safety has a well-defined toolkit containing Job Safety Analyses, incident investigation, training, finding and fixing hazards, risk assessment, auditing, reporting, metrics observation and feedback, accountability, engagement, and the continuous improvement cycle of plan-do-check-act. As such, safety’s peers in reliability and maintenance have similar toolkits and concerns: being proactive, assessing risks, recognizing and mitigating adverse events or failures, auditing, reporting, tapping operators’ knowledge and experience, ensuring accountability, measuring performance, and continuous improvement. Training must cut across all three disciplines so each practitioner understands the tools of their peers and how they intersect.
  3. Align management systems. Systems to ensure high-performance reliability, maintenance and safety are essential. Because of their shared goals, tools and methodologies, a robust and rigid framework can be constructed to align the management systems of the three functions. An effective management system will define and monitor policies, risk management, assurance and continuous improvement.
  4. Calibrate a risk-based approach. Reliability, maintenance and safety require an understanding of potential failure or loss, systems and engineering weaknesses, gap analyses, and how to develop risk mitigation plans to reduce or eliminate the consequences of failures. Companies are now taking a design-for-reliability approach to improve asset reliability. This approach also bakes in design for safety. Hence, aligning professionals and their approaches ensures improved efficacy, as well as efficiency in implementation.
  5. Implement mitigation plans. Effective risk reduction is proactive. Planned, predictive and preventive approaches to maintenance, reliability and safety all involve engaging frontline operators. Operators know best where – and why – the next incident will happen. They know what assets are reliable or unreliable, and they can anticipate, evaluate and detect equipment failures or potential breakdowns through their day-to-day use of equipment. Effective execution of mitigation plans requires education, operator engagement, ongoing measurement, reporting and disciplined accountability – who does what and when. These core components of mitigation align across reliability, maintenance and safety.
  6. Understand the critical role of culture. Safety pros know that culture – “the way things are done around here” – shapes attitudes, behaviors, practices and outcomes. Organizational culture also impacts reliability and maintenance. Assess your culture from the top down and the bottom up. Is it reactive or proactive to events? Is running equipment into the ground “the way it’s always been done here”? Do your maintenance crews enjoy being “downtime heroes” coming to the rescue? Culture shapes your goals, tools and methods, management systems, and the planning and execution of loss mitigation efforts.
  7. Cross-train disciplines to create partnerships and collaboration. Reliability, maintenance and safety cannot reside in segregated silos. There must be mutual understanding of roles, challenges and missions to produce teamwork and achieve common goals. Education across the board is essential. Reliability, maintenance and safety should be educated on the tools, techniques, approaches and challenges of their respective disciplines. Safety pros cannot reach this understanding without stepping out of habitual comfort zones. Ask questions, listen and learn. Engage with senior leadership on loss mitigation plans, culture, change management and management systems. Align with reliability and maintenance to power higher levels of safety performance, earn respect, and get that seat at the table. Take the initiative. Start the dialogue.


This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Colin Duncan is the CEO of SEAM Group (seamgroup.com), a market leader in asset reliability, safety and performance. He is responsible for overseeing operations, company vision and business activities globally.


Joseph Pitman is the president of SEAM Group’s enterprise asset management department. He has been assisting companies with their approach to enterprise asset management since 1992. He has overseen the implementation of hundreds of highly successful EAM and reliability efforts.


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