Take a Plant Safety Approach to Your Lubrication Efforts

Noria Corporation

Like most of the Noria technical team, I spend a considerable amount of time visiting many different types of plants. From pharmaceuticals to mining, food production to steel making, tire making to roof shingles, I’ve seen most of what the United States manufacturing base has to offer. But while the challenges and equipment used are many and varied, my day in the plant always starts the same way: a walk through the front gate after signing in with security. And, that’s where you’ll see the most striking similarity between these very diverse plants. The signage at the front gate usually states something like: “We have worked X man days with a lost-time accident. Work safe.”

If you stop to think about, do we really need to be reminded about safety every day? Isn’t it enough to be told once a year in a short safety class that, yes, safety is indeed important and something that should be considered above everything else? The answer, of course, is a resounding NO! Having a daily reminder in the form of signage at the front gate, awareness posters throughout the plant and a safety notice at the machine are an important tool in avoiding complacency – the most common cause of workplace accidents.

In other areas of plant life, complacency also is one of the leading causes of failure to succeed. This includes lubrication. Like other maintenance tasks, lubrication often is performed poorly due to one or more of a combination of factors, the most common of which are lack of training and lack of procedure (see my Viewpoint column in the July/August 2009 issue of Machinery Lubrication magazine, www.machinerylubrication.com). But even where good procedures and well-trained people are in place, mistakes do still happen, usually due to complacency.

So, how can we avoid complacency in lubrication? Just like safety, accidental human error resulting in poor lubrication can be minimized through a combination of awareness and consistent re-enforcement of the mission and vision. What better way to do this than through signage, metrics and awareness notices.

Achieving Awareness on Three Levels

Taking our lesson from safety, lubrication awareness needs to take three basic forms. The first is to provide awareness of the importance of lubrication at a macroscopic level. This is equivalent to the “lost time” notification at the front gate. For lubrication, there are several macroscopic metrics we can use, but the most effective is overall lubrication effectiveness, or OLE (read Drew Troyer’s column on this important subject at www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/363/lubrication-metric). Taken as the product of lubrication preventive maintenance compliance, lubricant quality compliance and contamination control compliance, OLE serves as a metric to identify the effectiveness of current lubrication performance in mitigating the causative factors of lubrication-related failure:

  • failure to do lubrication tasks on time,
  • failure to keep contaminants out of the machine, and
  • failure to keep lubricant in good health.

Just like the lost-time notification is intended to inspire us to exceed previous safety records, publishing OLE in the form of a monthly graphical analysis serves to inspire those who can influence the outcome of lubrication to constantly strive for excellence.

At the shop-floor level, safety often is proclaimed through a series of awareness posters sometimes featuring photos of family members of co-workers to help stress the point that safety affects everyone and is everyone’s responsibility. For lubrication, a similar approach can be taken. For example, a simple awareness poster showing the effects of over-greasing on a bearing or a laminated poster showing the different colors assigned to each lubricant in the plant helps to reinforce the importance of precision lubrication and dispel the myth that oil is oil, grease is grease, and the more the better.

At the machine level, pinch points or locations where safety hazards exist are usually identified with signage. While useful for all employees, safety hazard labels are most important for new employees and those least experienced with a specific machine. For lubrication, the same holds true. At each point of application, a simple color-coded label identifying the correct lubricant, or a more elaborate schema including the correct quantity of grease to apply, easily can be developed. The same applies to lubrication inspections. Simple annotated photographs showing various points on the plant and what the desired state should be during inspection serve to help reinforce best practice and encourage precision. The approach is often referred to as the “visual plant”.

Standardized Work Plans

In addition to labels, metrics and awareness posters, safety also is made a priority through the use of standardized work plans which provide (or should provide) specific details about a task and the associated hazards. For lubrication, the same holds true. Lubrication instructions need to provide specific details and guidelines that are simple and easy to understand, but contain specific details for how to perform the task according to prescribed best practice.

Training and Reinforcement

Finally, no safety program would be complete without formal and informal safety training. Even though an employee may have been through safety training during his or her initial hiring, safety is reinforced through regular routine, formal training as well as informal reinforcement at the start of a crew meeting or other group gathering. For lubrication, the same approach also applies. Both formal and less formal awareness sessions should be held with those that can influence the outcome of lubrication to help insure that the need for precision and the consequences of imprecise practices are brought to the forefront. Often, picking a specific topic (e.g. the importance of proper oil sampling or the effects of contaminants on element bearings) is a good way to stay focused on an area where perhaps preferred practices are starting to lapse.

Just like safety and the various ways we help to insure that we minimize the number of lost-time accidents, think about how we also can apply a similar approach to help insure you strive toward lubrication excellence. As always, this is my opinion; I’m interested in yours.

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