Use loadshedding to manage facility shutdowns and avoid costly breakdowns

By Lydia Hendricks, Business Development Director at FM Solutions

Whilst South African business owners are frustrated with having to contend with hours of loadshedding, these long periods of power outages offer the ideal opportunity to test the capacity of built-in systems and to perform much needed inspections, maintenance and repair jobs that require a complete shutdown of the facility.

Shutting off the main electricity supply to a building can be disruptive for most organisations – particularly those who run 24/7 operations. It is an important, yet complicated project that needs to be carefully managed and coordinated in order to limit disruptions and downtime as much as possible. For this reason, many companies avoid check-ups because of systems reliance and disruption to business.

Although annual shutdowns are not legislated as compulsory, it is best practice in risk management, when assets are serving critical systems of the organisation or in aging buildings. It’s the same as when you’re changing the engine oil or fixing a flat tyre. Even though your car is able to drive for a while, you know you’re doing it to allow for optimal performance, to avoid costly repairs later on and you’re gaining a lot in efficiency and safety at the same time.

Here are some insights into the most frequently asked questions relating to complete facility shutdowns:

Q:  How often must a complete facility shutdown typically take place?

A:  Medium Voltage (MV) Switchgear and transformer upgrades are the only services that would require a full shutdown to affect maintenance upgrade and major repairs.

A complete facility shutdown is not necessarily to affect maintenance but is advisable to test the critical interconnected systems that serve the building. During this time, the equipment capacity should be tested, and the related maintenance interventions identified to ensure the ongoing stability and safety of the building systems – necessary in the event of total blackouts or fire in a building.

Other typical systems that should be tested during facility shutdowns include fire systems, lifts, emergency lighting, back-up power capacity, HVAC extract system to name a few. Most assets have guarantees and warrantees that stipulate maintenance conditions and frequency of maintenance servicing to ensure its reliability and longevity.  This could range from monthly to once a year – or in some cases at a three-year interval, depending on the type of asset. The frequency usually specifies the type of maintenance that is required, but it is vital for these maintenance and servicing tasks to be done in order to uphold the terms of the guarantee.

Some of these assets often form part of (or are interdependent with) other critical systems that aid the overall safe function of a building.  For example, smoke detectors are linked to a fire panel and a Building Management System that send warnings when emergency intervention is required. Failure to service and test the links to this panel could result in critical communication being compromised and ultimately lack of response to these alarms would result in serious losses if not attended to.

Not reinstating systems when contractors attend to their side of maintenance is often the main reason for system failure and in most cases found after an incident has occurred.

Q:  What are some of the safety requirements that need to be taken into consideration (and be complied with) during such maintenance upgrades? 

A: Risk Assessments and Safety Task Analysis should be a standard process in place that should be enforced when embarking on a full shutdown of the power.  Typical risks linked to a shutdown are that the entire building will be in complete darkness and therefore synchronising and step-controlling the process with contractors responsible is important to ensure the safety of the teams responsible for the tests.

When it comes to testing fire systems, the safety of company assets should never be overlooked. This includes release of escape doors and their operation to ensure safe evacuation.  For the same reason, a company’s security staff (technical and non-technical) should be reminded to also regularly check that these automatic doors are open for evacuation.  Their presence at these exit doors are important to monitor and secure the building during the test phase.

Q: How does one go about preparing for a planned shut-down to perform the necessary upgrades, repairs of maintenance at a client’s facility? 

A: A business’ safety systems should support these activities.  There needs to be set procedures for documented and critical systems highlighted and scheduled right from the inception of contractor engagement.  Maintenance programmes should be executed and implemented in accordance with project management principles, while measuring and managing all of the risks.

Q:  Who should be involved in the planning and preparation?

A:  The planning and preparation of a shutdown should be coordinated by a Senior Technical Manager or Project Manager. Shutting down the power to the building will have an impact on the entire business and all stakeholders should therefore be considered and consulted – especially infrastructure and IT as they are responsible for business support systems – the life-blood of any organisation, so they are directly impacted.  It is important to also coordinate with security to avoid ingress and egress of anybody who is not involved in the shutdown.