Safety first. It’s a directive we take seriously. But disruptions and safety risks are a constant — no matter the industry — and effective disaster planning is critical for keeping workers and assets safe.

While companies, such as utilities, can never be fully prepared for every possible safety-threatening scenario, planning ahead allows facility operators to respond effectively to unforeseeable disruptions.

Extreme weather, pandemics, fires, cyberattacks, physical security breaches, unexpected maintenance activities and on-site accidents are all examples of potential safety disruptors. But, if an organization has a plan and knows ahead of time how to adjust, the likelihood of returning to normal operations safely are greater.

Disaster planning sometimes neglects a crucial aspect of business that poses a significant threat to safety: the operation and maintenance of critical equipment. The historical way companies deal with maintenance has been when it breaks, it gets fixed. But times have changed. Facility operators must revise this way of thinking and acknowledge that reactive maintenance is a much less safe approach to keeping facilities operating.

This era of tight budgets, technological advancements, supply chain issues, staffing constraints and stiff regulatory requirements is driving a fundamental shift toward more thoughtful proactive/predictive maintenance. This type of maintenance allows facility operators to look ahead at all the potential ways equipment can fail and start mitigating those possible issues before disaster strikes.

In addition to developing disaster-centric safety protocols that consider chain of command and open communication, here are three maintenance-focused ways facility operators can plan ahead while striving to always maintain a safe work environment.

Be proactive. Using a predictive approach to maintenance contributes to overall safer operations. Think of this proactive approach as an oil change for a facility instead of a full-engine replacement. This type of maintenance should include making the most of technological advancements. For example, drones can be used to inspect equipment in areas too hot or unsafe for humans. This helps prevent injuries and could reduce the cost of repairs due to downtime. Further, the use of other predictive technologies, such as thermal imaging, vibration monitoring, remote observation and advance pattern recognition, can help reduce injuries when facing high-risk repairs.

Have the right parts. One barrier to safe and efficient maintenance is supply chain issues. Without a proper equipment repair plan in place, disruptions can lead to scrambling to find parts, making do with parts on hand, or not performing a much-needed repair. Any one of these options could result in a potentially unsafe situation. If the items are not in a company warehouse, getting these parts can take three to five times longer than normal. Facility operators with a predictive maintenance mindset can avoid potential safety issues by accurately predicting what could break and when, and then adequately preparing for that possibility.

Proper workforce management. An additional impediment to safe and efficient maintenance and operations is workforce constraints. When equipment fails and facility operators must manage repairs reactively, there is a risk of being limited by who is available and whether that person has the proper tools or training. Additionally, as more seasoned workers who have “seen and fixed it all” retire, they are being replaced by workers with less experience. Both instances can lead to unsafe disruptions. Where possible, mitigate workforce issues by planning repairs ahead of time so that the right people with the right tools and experience can be placed on the right jobs.

When planning for disruptive times, there are many challenges facility operators can proactively prepare for that will help maintain operational safety. Having disaster protocols in place, respecting chain of command, supporting open communication and practicing proactive maintenance are all essential parts of any good safety strategy.

Organizations will never have a perfect plan for all potential disruptions. But anticipating issues most likely to arise allows companies to be better prepared and, as a result, much safer.


Disasters can cause serious operational disruptions. Optimizing maintenance management processes that take into account employee and asset safety requires a well-thought-out plan.

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Stephen Henson is a senior project manager in Generation Asset Advisory at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell. His focus includes operations and maintenance optimization, equipment reliability, condition assessments and due diligence.