The Challenge

The operations manager invited the shift supervisor for this exercise. When he learned what he had to do, the shift supervisor requested that his senior panel operator also be allowed to come and help him. We scheduled the exercise to take place after the shift change when both these people would be free from their duties.

The two men came at the appointed time. Both were a bit nervous to face the forum in which their big boss, the operations manager, was also present. On my suggestion, the operations manager himself took the lead in developing the tally.

They generated the following Table 31.1,(shown on the following page).

The participants themselves found the result of the exercise incredible. Indeed, they could account for less than 75% of the time as shown in the table, and this included some maintenance work already being done by operators. This convinced them to accept additional alternative work for operators.

Type of Maintenance Work for Operators

Operators' unstructured time should be utilized only for alternative work, which we will call front line maintenance, as illustrated in Figure 31.1.

The following is a description of these tasks:

• Derive the tasks from RCM/RBI analysis results. These will be preventive maintenance tasks identified by a review in which operators have themselves participated. Hence they are more likely to accepted. Leave the specialist tasks for specialists.

Activity Of outside operators Hours/12-hour shift/operator

Duration of shift


Shift hand-over and discussion


Structured walk-abouts


Infrequent operational work


Minor Maintenance work (already done by operators)


Other planned work (one year plan)


Job preparation for maintenance work


Safety standby for hot and dangerous work


Training ind. manual review


Breaks (lunch and tea-breaks)


Total time for operator activity


—? 8.85

Spare time per operator


Table 31.1 Operator Workload

  • • The order of preference is preventive maintenance tasks as described above, then condition monitoring, and last of all corrective maintenance.
  • • The primary task of the operator is to operate the plant safely. Therefore, only interruptible maintenance tasks are suitable as front-line work. This policy will enable release of operators should operators be required urgently to handle any emerging operational situation.
  • • The available operator time is treated as a maintenance resource. It is planned, scheduled, and accounted for, as for the regular maintainers.

Before operators can start doing some of these tasks, we may need to give some focused training.


The refinery now uses nearly 25% of their operator time in front-line maintenance activities.

Front-line Maintenance Tasks

Figure 31.1 Front-line Maintenance Tasks


  • 1. Use of resources can be critically scrutinized to reveal under-utilization.
  • 2. To be useful, this should be done with an open mind with the full participation of the relevant parties.
  • 3. Operators can carry out useful maintenance work after minimal training, without jeopardizing their primary duty of operating the plant safely.


We will always find many defenders of the status-quo. Challenging these and understanding the factual situation can help demolish such citadels.

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