With budgets tight and workers stretched thin, preventive maintenance (PM) programs have become something that is nice to have instead of a must-have for many organizations.

Many operations and maintenance crews find themselves operating in a reactive environment, never knowing what major equipment failure will occur next. It can be daunting for these crews to think about trying to shift to a more proactive workload.

Best practices suggest that 30 per cent of all work should be preventive and 90 per cent of work orders should be generated by PM inspections. That sounds good, but again, how does a team move from little to no proactive work to spending nearly a third of its time on proactive work?

First off, rest assured that increasing the overall percentage of preventive maintenance is an achievable target for any operations and maintenance team. The key is to transition from short-term fixes to long-term improvements in small increments.

Start by focusing on one mission-critical system, such as the HVAC. Set up maintenance schedules based on manufacturer guidelines and warranty conditions. As a bonus, cleaning and inspecting HVAC equipment’s various parts can reduce the energy costs associated with the system by up to 50 per cent.

Once routine maintenance schedules are established for one system, move on to another critical system, such as the roof. Again, set up maintenance schedules, documenting current conditions for future reference. An effective PM program can extend the life of a roof system by years and ensures that, as the roof reaches the end of its life, it can be replaced as a scheduled event rather than in an emergency situation.

Creating schedules for these two systems alone can usually move a workload close to 20 per cent proactive maintenance. Continue on in this way to build PM schedules for all systems. Concentrating on one system at a time builds a PM program at a comfortable speed, which allows the team to get used to a certain level of scheduled work before more is introduced. As PM schedules are established for each system, reactive work will start to decline as problems that may have cropped up later, in a bigger capacity, are caught early.

Implementing a comprehensive PM program takes time, but for those functioning in mostly reactive environments, making small changes means less chaos to deal with on a daily basis and more time to focus on proactive work. Research supports the 80/20 rule in facilities: 80 per cent of a facility’s maintenance issues can be addressed by performing preventive maintenance on only 20 per cent of the facility’s systems, so starting with the major systems can greatly reduce the emergency workload.

Another consideration for a PM program is whether a maintenance crew can be dedicated solely to emergency work while the rest of the crews spend their time on proactive activities. It’s common for all technicians to be available to handle reactive work. While that can be a suitable approach, it can also lead to confusion.

A crew may not be prepared for a call when it comes in, or the crew may have to stop work on something that’s more important in the long term but less so in the immediate moment. Think about travel time, too, because that’s one of the biggest drawbacks of a highly reactive work environment: the amount of time spent traveling from one unexpected job to another can end up being significant.

If the maintenance team isn’t big enough to devote multiple people to reactive work, then think about designating one person as the go-to reactive worker so that everyone else can continue on with preventive activities. Team members can take turns serving as the go-to reactive worker so that everyone builds experience with both reactive and proactive maintenance work. The result is a stable schedule for team members doing PM that leaves team members available to respond to situations that require immediate attention.

So, how do you implement a preventive maintenance program? One system at a time. It’s a process that starts with small steps and requires consistency and patience, but it pays off: studies indicate that 70 to 85 per cent of equipment failures are self-induced, meaning their cause can be traced back to improper maintenance practices.

The benefits of performing regular preventive maintenance outweigh the consequences of not doing it so greatly that, for an organization to ensure optimal equipment life at minimal cost, it’s absolutely a must-have. A full PM program is not beyond the reach of any team. The sooner the process is started, the sooner its benefits can be realized.