What is emergency maintenance?

Emergency maintenance (also known as breakdown maintenance) is maintenance required when an asset or piece of equipment suffers an unexpected breakdown or change in condition that results in an immediate threat to health and safety.

Emergencies almost always happen without warning, so emergency maintenance cannot be scheduled, but every maintenance program should include plans for dealing with emergencies when they do occur.

When is maintenance considered emergency maintenance?

Emergency maintenance is often confused with other types of unplanned maintenance. The most common mix-ups happen between emergency maintenance, reactive maintenance, and run to fail maintenance. There are a lot of similarities between all three types of maintenance, so it’s easy to see why they sound interchangeable. However, there are a few key differences that make them unique.

Reactive maintenance occurs when failure happens unexpectedly with no plan in place to prevent or fix it. The difference between reactive and emergency maintenance lies in the timing and urgency of repairs. Reactive maintenance is triggered when equipment experiences a failure-level maintenance issue of any sort (not just a total break down) and can happen on any type of asset (not just the ones that pose the biggest risk to production or safety.

Run to fail maintenance is the deliberate choice by the maintenance team to allow a piece of equipment to run until it breaks down. While nothing is done to prevent the failure (just like in emergency and reactive maintenance), this is a choice that is made beforehand (unlike emergency and reactive maintenance). It is a strategy commonly used on non-critical assets that are quick and easy to repair, have short lifespans, or are not designed to be repaired.

Examples of emergency maintenance

There are three common scenarios in which emergency maintenance can be triggered:

  1. When a maintenance issue is observed that threatens health and safety. Some examples of this are when there is a flood near an electrical system, or protective guards fail on a machine with hazardous moving parts.
  2. In the case of serious faults that have caused the complete failure of a production-critical asset and when that failure immediately affects production or safety.
  3. When systems are shut down to prevent the failure of connected systems, such as when sections of a power grid shut down to prevent cascade failures across the larger grid.

How to prevent emergency maintenance

The best way for your maintenance team to prevent emergency maintenance is to ensure that effective planned and scheduled maintenance strategies are in place. This can take the form of preventive maintenance, condition-based maintenance, predictive maintenance, or prescriptive maintenance. Planned and scheduled maintenance strategies proactively identify issues and put in place processes to repair the asset before total failure occurs.

To make these maintenance strategies effective, your maintenance program should include training to ensure workers understand the difference between urgent and emergency maintenance. Is there a reasonable backup option for a failed asset? If so, maintenance can be scheduled on an urgent basis. However, if the failure of that asset poses a threat to worker safety or is immediately integral to production, emergency maintenance is needed.

How to deal with emergency maintenance situations

You never want to be in a position where you have to deal with emergency maintenance. However, if it does ever happen, it’s important to have a plan in place to deal with emergencies.

The top priority should always be ensuring health and safety. Once it is clear that workers are not in immediate danger, there should be an easily accessible and detailed task list that helps technicians resolve the failure as quickly, effectively, and safely as possible. Emergency maintenance checklists should follow the following structure of tasks:

  1. Safety
  2. Clean
  3. Adjust
  4. Inspect
  5. Replenish
  6. Replace
  7. Rebuild
  8. Safety
 the anatomy of a preventive maintenance checklist

After the immediate cause of failure has been identified, it’s important to conduct a root cause analysis to determine what went wrong and ways to fix the issue so the chances of it happening again are reduced as much as possible.

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Of all the types of maintenance, emergency maintenance is one type you hope never to need. Fortunately, a more effective preventive maintenance program will help you stay away from emergencies and reduce the risk of ever doing the mad scramble to repair an asset.

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