Today’s business environment is increasingly fluid. At a moment’s notice, we must adjust equipment and operations to evolving demands.

By William P. Murphy

As states throughout the country ease restrictions over the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of businesses are preparing to restart or expand their operations.

Some may have shut down their equipment and facilities abruptly. Other companies have reduced capacity and continued production with a limited number of employees.

It’s essential to take steps to prevent breakdowns and downtime before getting back to work. Here are some things to consider.

How Was Equipment Shut Down?

Was plant equipment secured and laid up according to original equipment manufacturer guidelines and specifications? In many cases equipment may have been improperly taken offline, which can result in failures when it’s restarted or reduce equipment life expectancy over time.

In facilities where HVAC systems were shut down or not operating to requirements, heat, humidity and moisture may have impacted equipment, stored parts and perishable goods.

Attention to the electrical distribution system is critical, in addition to moisture, temperature fluctuations combined with deenergizing and reenergizing the system can result in loose connections and potential electrical arcing and fires.

Maintenance and Start-Up

Plant and equipment preventive maintenance plans, programs and training may have been missed or overlooked during a business shutdown. Lubricating or turning rotating equipment, for example, or cleaning and tightening of electrical connections.

For many types of equipment, the start-up period is critical. Cold and improper start-up of machinery after a long layup can lead to catastrophic failure. Take care to inspect, clean, lubricate and test equipment while following specific start-up procedures.

The same is true for air conditioning, boilers and electrical equipment. And don’t forget the exhaust and ventilation and hot and cold-water systems. When water systems have been isolated and not drained correctly, there is a potential for bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease to grow.

Before addressing any equipment for start-up, confirming proper “lock out/tag” procedures is critical.

Are You Missing Key Workers?

Who will be operating and maintaining your equipment? Many companies furloughed employees and others won’t or can’t return. Make sure you have enough trained, experienced employees to properly restart and operate key equipment.

Unstaffed facilities or those running with minimal crews pose a higher risk of exposure to equipment breakdowns. In response, many businesses are turning to new technologies and the Internet of Things to help keep their facilities operational.

Sensors can monitor critical equipment and give overburdened facility staff much needed extra time to perform their new responsibilities and manage increased workloads.

Your equipment insurer or other service providers can send real-time alerts when conditions are detected with equipment and property. One example: a toilet can overflow for days without anyone noticing, possibly leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars in water damage.

Boom and Bust

Some companies may be facing sharply increased demand and be under pressure to return quickly to normal production and inventory levels. Or they may be retooling to support new critical needs.

Be careful: make sure your equipment is utilized and applied as designed and being operated within the limits specified by the manufacturer.

On the flip side, other companies may decide conditions warrant a complete shutdown of their facility until conditions improve. A plant layup plan can help make sure your equipment works properly when you need it again.

Don’t Forget Cyber Security

Your data and information systems are also critical equipment. Don’t neglect your cyber security when restarting or ramping up facility operations.

Maybe some employees were working remotely, perhaps using their own mobile devices, or regular security updates weren’t being made while your facility was shut down.

It’s time to revisit your cyber security, especially if your company has integrated new technologies like virtual meeting apps into your systems. Do applications require updating? Have user passwords expired and need to be reset?

Install patches and software updates. If you haven’t done so already, adopt multifactor authentication for all remote access and access to sensitive or personally identifying data. Any temporarily reassigned IT security personnel should be returned to security duties.

If you haven’t adopted a password policy, do so now. Passwords should be long, complex and not easily guessable.

What’s Ahead?

Today’s business environment is increasingly fluid. At a moment’s notice, we must adjust equipment and operations to evolving demands.

When equipment breaks down, widespread shutdowns and phased re-openings could make it difficult to get critical parts and service.

Parts inventories may be low and new production of parts slow. Where contractors must travel long distances to make repairs, those trips could be delayed or prohibited, particularly when traveling from outside the United States.

New rules to protect employees and visitors – social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing, building entry and access protocols – might greatly extend service wait times. When parts and contractors are available, businesses will compete for service and drive up costs.

Looking ahead, we can expect more changes in the way we do business.

Will you be ready to respond?

William P. Murphy Hsb, Industry Today
William P. Murphy

William P. Murphy is a vice president with HSB, which provides a range of specialty insurance products and related services. He is the global product owner for HSB’s commercial and personal lines equipment breakdown products.


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