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Reactive Maintenance Risk – DIY Facility Management.

A huge financial risk when it goes wrong…and it did!

“A privileged observation”:

No one was hurt, but the situation had the financial exposure to the building owner was and still is, huge. We need to emphasise here we were involved only with the energy conservation strategy for the building only, the owner performs their own facility management. (DIY Facility Management).
So, a quick out line of a brief event which discovered a massive risk for the owner.

The outline of event:

A simple Distribution Switchboard shut down for replacement of the Distribution board; the main switchboard of the building, located in the basement, had two 3 phase electrical feeds from the street. To shut down the Distribution switchboard, the task involved the need to power off the sub main to this distribution switchboard, nothing special, straight forward stuff, simply turn of the sub main switch at the main switchboard in the basement, do the work, and then turn the power for the sub main back on again.
The switch on the main board was “thrown” to the off position, the new distribution board installed and then the switch on the main switchboard, in the basement, was “thrown” to the on position, but it failed.

Switch Fail:

The logical process would be to obtain the details and replace the switch, by removing the draw, swap it out, and throw the switch again to return power to the sub main. This wasn’t the situation as the main switchboard in the basement was installed in the late 1990’s and didn’t have that kind of technology or forethought for a straight forward swap. The board had been built such that the switch was always “live” and couldn’t be easily swapped out. The main switchboard had to be shut down completely, which meant the street mains had to be turned off. Its 6:30am. where is the street main?. so the supply authority was called.

Another Building is Effected:

The transformer which supplies the street main for this building, also supplies another building, so to turn off the supply meant they had to turn off somebody else’s electrical supply as well. The electrician was nervous, and rightly so, but it wasn’t his fault. There had been no servicing of any kind to this main switchboard for more than 15 years. The switch had heaps of junk in it and was clearly a contender for a “fail”. Perhaps we could argue the electrician should have known the switch was a liability, but he assumed the switch was serviceable.
To cut a long storey short, the politics was sorted out and the transformer shut off. The switch was replaced safely and without further technical issues. The ramifications are still to come, but hopefully in the form of just paper work.

On going Risk:

The on going risk for our building owner is that should a distribution board have a major failure or there is an emergency need to shut of the power to a distribution switchboard, then power to a floor or several floors, or the mechanical air conditioning plant, may be lost for several days. The losses in rent, relocation of tenants, server rooms being down for extended periods, phone systems with out power, …..the list goes on.
There is nine other switches for nine other distribution switchboards on the site at risk. Next time, the owner has to organise generators, additional equipment for spares, additional electricians, and do the works after hours and in the cooler months.
I’m sure an emergency generator would be leased/hired and installed to reduces these costs, but this generator also has a cost.

So what is the lesson – Reactive maintenance fails:

The owner has saved money on the preventative maintenance of the main switchboard, but at what risk and after this event, at what final cost.
A prime example of an older building which, was built on a tight budget, and run on a tight budget, having no maintenance or redundancy in place either at construction stage or operation stage. The financial risk in the failure of one switch, both directly and indirectly is huge, and when compared to the maintenance budget, the preventative maintenance costs becomes inconsequential.
The preventative maintenance budget is a fixed sum, but the indirect exposure to the owner in reputation, tenant retention, possible legals, council costs, supply authority costs, indirect management costs, and now generator costs, install costs, delivery costs, etc, is not a fixed sum.
Ultimately, the preventative maintenance may not have prevented this switch failure, but, the configuration of the street mains, the obsolescence and design of the switchboard and other factors would have been known by management. Consequently, a process could have been in place prior to these works going a head. The likely hood of the switch failure occurring, while preventative maintenance was in place, would have also been far less as the switch’s serviceability would have been tested regularly.

Two Lessons:

The “Do it Yourself” facility Management is a mistake, call a professional; and the lack of preventative maintenance is also a mistake. Perhaps, if the owner had engaged professional Facility Management company, then this could have been avoided or at least reduced.

Nigel Wraight
Principle
Wraight Property

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