As equipment operates throughout its useful life cycle, signs of failure will begin to manifest. When warning signs or symptoms are neglected, the equipment will reach the point of functional failure and ultimately catastrophic failure. Without access to the appropriate resources or a robust asset management program, many facilities professionals struggle to escape the vicious cycle known as “reactive maintenance.”

Reactive or emergency maintenance is described as an all-hands-on-deck, mad scramble to restore normal operations of equipment or systems after failure occurs. Like firefighters racing to put out a fire, facilities team members are conditioned to respond to critical failures and quickly restore normal operation of equipment. When the team’s time, talent and attention are consumed by reacting to equipment failure, the focus on intentional maintenance activities is lost, trapped under a ballooning backlog of deferred maintenance.

Typically measured in working days or weeks, a deferred maintenance backlog is a metric used to qualify the amount of delayed or rescheduled maintenance activities. It is important to acknowledge that not all tasks on the maintenance backlog are equal in importance and/or urgency. When an informed maintenance team makes the conscious decision to delay or defer maintenance activities because the equipment is operating within defined parameters, there is no need to panic. However, when a growing backlog includes equipment requiring a high level of reliability (due to the potential of causing harm or death should it fail), the probability of downtime and serious safety issues are inevitable.

When maintenance teams are stuck in this reactive, fire-fighting maintenance mode, it is easy to become trapped in a maze.

Given the numerous factors impacting health care operations, the ability to prevent unscheduled downtime is stress-tested now more than ever before. To meet these challenges, the American Society for Health Care Engineering has developed a tool which can be accessed via the link in this column to assess the current condition of a system’s or facility’s asset management program. This tool provides the groundwork for benchmarking the effectiveness of an investment strategy. The argument that one cannot manage what one does not first measure starts with an understanding of whether backlogs are deflating, stable or ballooning.