MRO Q&A: Establishing a Work-Order Pecking Order

Jan. 27, 2015
A Food Processing reader asks how to address work order priorities at his food processing plant.

A Reader Asks

I am a planner, and I find that some departments designate their work orders as “human safety” priorities to get the work done more quickly, even if it barely qualifies as safety related. How should I address this?

Our Expert Responds

Without being too presumptive, if this is happening, I would suggest you may lack an agreed-upon priority system that covers all the departments that maintenance serves.

As a planner, your job is to make sure you are always working on “the right stuff.” All work orders compete with each other for their proper place in the overall execution queue to ensure company objectives are being met on a timely basis. To this end, a priority system must be established that incorporates an equitable weighting of the work management views as important. In many companies, productivity, human safety, food safety, energy reduction, innovation, new products and cost reduction are among the areas that are identified as priorities to move the organization forward. That being said, it’s unrealistic for a single priority to trump all other considerations when establishing the work queue.

In your example, human safety must be further broken down into levels of importance. For instance, one work order might address a condition that could result in the loss of human life, while another might prevent a lost-time accident and still another might be a preventive measure against a recordable accident. In each of these instances, safety concerns are being addressed, but they clearly are not of the same magnitude. You will also find this to be true in other areas such as food safety, cost reduction and production of new products.

You should task the functional leaders of each area of concern (worker safety, food safety, cost reduction, etc.) to develop a sliding scale of importance for each priority within their areas. After this is done, you will need to determine, for example, how a mid-level safety concern stacks up against a cost reduction work order that is expected to generate a 50 percent return on investment. These priority rankings should be agreed to either by a consortium of all of the departments serviced by the maintenance team or by the company leadership team. The end product will be a blend of all issues the company holds in high regard and the importance of each level of each area relative to the others. There will be occasions when a work order will fall into an ambiguous category. In that case, the leader of the functional area involved should be the tie breaker.

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