Hidden Leaders of the Shutdown

By Joel Levitt, Life Cycle Engineering
As appeared in Plant Services Magazine

If your organization uses contract labor to conduct shutdown repairs, you know this is true: once the shutdown team takes over, the responsibilities of your maintenance crew members change. Jobs transform. An electrician might become a gang leader, contractor liaison, tour guide or safety officer. For this brief period the maintenance worker joins management. They help manage the thousands of shutdown details. Are you preparing maintenance workers to be effective in these roles?

Some of the important roles that need to be discussed, coached and defined include:

  • Tour guide
  • Teacher of company documentation, norms and culture
  • Safety advocate and policeman
  • Quality advocate and inspector
  • Legal agent
  • Planner’s eyes and ears
  • Meeting participant

Tour guide

Modern plants are complicated places. To the extent that your crew member can show the contractor critical locations in the plant you can gain productivity. Important areas include everything from bathrooms, eye washes, and medical stations to permitting, stores and the tool crib. The crew member also guides people to shutoffs, utilities, switch rooms, and even the equipment to be worked on.

Teacher of company documentation, norms and culture

Every company has a culture that is manifested in their attitudes toward quality, conduct, engineering, safety paperwork, and almost everything else. Contractors might come in contact with a wide range of cultures and are usually flexible. Your crew member is a guide that helps the contractor get along well with the rest of the company and avoid making any major cultural mistakes.

Safety advocate and policeman

There are two aspects to the safety/environmental job. One is to be sure the contractor knows and understands the hazards of your environment. This activity would include reviewing all hazards, being sure the contractor’s personnel understand the rules of safe work, and being vigilant to insure no one gets hurt. This team member could help out with the safety moment meetings in the morning and alert his/her charges to any new or special hazards.  

There is another aspect of this job. We expect our maintenance crew member to keep his eyes open. He needs to be comfortable reporting safety violations and looking hard to see if the individual contractor employee is fit to work. We don’t expect the crew member to be a doctor but we do expect if the crew member sees something, he says something to someone who can deal with the issue.

Quality advocate and inspector

Quality issues, once they are covered up, might not show up as problems for a long time. Your maintenance crew member is your first line of defense against these (intentional or unintentional) short cuts and outright mistakes. In the same case as safety, your team members need to be comfortable reporting quality issues to management.

Legal agent

Your company needs to make clear where the responsibilities for this job start and stop. It is legally important to make the powers explicit. The legal issue is called agency. The question that should be answered explicitly is whether your crew member can buy things, spend money, sign change orders, etc. If your person typically signs change orders in his area then he is an agent of the organization. The vendor comes to rely on your person. The actions of agents are binding on the company. Does management want the newly minted area leader to actively fix problems and just report the results, or directly report the problems?

The crew member is now no longer labor but management and a company representative. He must be willing to expose a contractor or vendor if they are doing bad things. Your crew member must understand company policy regarding gifts. Crew members are right in the action so that a bribe to turn a blind eye toward an expensive mistake might be a temptation. Further, more subtle gifts such as tools, tickets to events, or electronics can be used to build a feeling of friendship that might tilt the scale toward the contractor in a dispute. 

Planner’s eyes and ears

Sometimes the crew member becomes the planner’s eyes and ears (and mouth) on the ground. He might check materials, explain a job to contractor, review a work package, help get resources, identify utility requirements, offer guidance about who to talk to, and answer questions. He might even become accountable for the reporting of work in his area. Most importantly, your crew members offer another view about job progress, completion and problems. They supply humantel (human intelligence) to the planners and shutdown management. To be effective, your crew members must know how to report progress in a way that is concise and accurate.

Meeting participant

Since shutdowns are run by meetings, your crew members provide valuable input. They are on the ground, in the area and know what they are looking at. Participating effectively in meetings can be an acquired skill. These crew members have to be shown basics, including on-time attendance, concise reporting, handling dissent and active participation.

Preparing maintenance workers to be effective in these roles is an important part of preparing for a shutdown. The time you spend coaching and training the team members who get involved in shutdowns will be time well spent.

Joel Levitt is the Director of International Projects with Life Cycle Engineering (LCE). He has over 30 years’ experience in the maintenance field including process control design, source equipment inspection, electrical expertise, field service technician, maritime operations, and property management. A recognized expert at training maintenance professionals, Joel has trained more than 17,000 maintenance leaders from 3,000 organizations around the world. You can reach Joel at [email protected].


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