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The Inspector's Approach to Turnaround Execution: Proactive vs. Reactive

This article was originally posted on Monday April 10, 2017

Anyone who has been around the turnaround inspection business long enough has surely been exposed to the two primary schools of thought for turnaround inspectors regarding our activity and participation level. I would like to take a moment to discuss them both and hopefully demonstrate why only one is truly correct.

First, the Reactive Approach: “When they call, we go.”

A very common saying in most turnaround trailers. This approach requires a very heavy reliance on others in the turnaround organization and greatly reduces the role of inspectors as owner/user representatives. The general idea is that the work coordinator knows when inspectors are needed and how to contact them. So, when all work has been completed up to the inspection step or hold-point, the coordinator will transmit a status of, “ready for inspection.” The inspectors will then mobilize to the area and follow through with the inspection milestone.

Delving more deeply into this theology, one may find several justifications among its practitioners. One of which is usually, “we don’t need to be out there until it’s ready.” Essentially, this is stating that our job is to inspect equipment and approve hold points, and that we have nothing else to offer otherwise. There are other reasons, but they need no explanation; for obvious reasons if you have ever heard them.

I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach.

Without becoming too lengthy with my objection, I will simply present a few facts about inspectors. While it is true that inspectors are not craftsmen and are not performing any real physical work between inspection milestones; it is truer that we have (or should have) a very broad knowledge of how and why the work leading up to our milestones is performed in certain ways and the potential adverse effects that poor execution or general short-cuts can have on the process equipment that we are responsible for. This knowledge is amassed in many ways including prior experience in the mechanical crafts, individual effort to obtain proficiency, and as a side effect of our unique position that puts us in almost constant contact with knowledgeable persons and Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) throughout the industry. This knowledge is very valuable to the owner/user organizations that employ us and is expected to be utilized throughout every step of their event.

What is the point? We are hired by our clients to be an around-the-clock mechanical integrity presence on the field of operations; observing techniques, engaging with craftsmen, sharing our knowledge, and helping to ensure that work is executed properly, meeting our clients’ expectations and satisfying all code requirements. Though we are not typically authorized to direct or stop work, we can gather information when we see questionable or improper work practices being utilized and relay these back to our clients for their review. Many times, we will find that these situations are simple cases of good initiative, bad judgement, resulting from a lack of knowledge and understanding about the necessity of specified practices.

Finally, the Proactive Approach: “They ain’t waiting on us.”

A very common saying in all Sentinel Integrity Solutions turnaround trailers. There is much that can be said about inspectors taking a proactive approach to our role in a turnaround event. The first benefit of this approach, and the one from which all others stem, is the necessary integration of mechanical integrity. Mechanical integrity is not simply a step in a process, like blinding, cleaning, or erecting scaffolding, as vitally important as these steps are.

Mechanical integrity is integral to every part of the day-to-day operation of a safe, efficient, and competitive facility. As such, it is integral to every part of turnaround planning, and turnaround execution. By taking this approach, an inspector is not going above and beyond. He or she is simply providing the necessary integration of mechanical integrity as a pertinent viewpoint through which the target of successful completion must be viewed.

As we just discussed in our rebuttal to the Reactive Approach, there are countless scenarios in which a proactive, integrated inspector, providing mechanical integrity insight, can save our clients time and money by helping to identify and address undesirable conditions or practices. These positive results can be yielded exponentially when the craftsmen we engage with take that shared knowledge on and practice a better, more technically proficient trade with mechanical integrity in mind.

What are some steps that a proactive and integrated inspector may take, and how can those activities help a client organization with their budget and schedule? The following list will provide a few brief answers to this question, as well as pose some additional questions that I hope will accentuate our point.

  • Be in constant communication with work coordinators. The importance of this cannot be understated. This allows us to discuss strategy and relay any inspection needs that are not explicitly spelled out in the plan. How often are inspections, follow-up examinations, and repair requests delayed because coordinators are unaware of specific inspection needs?

  • Observe work activity in areas which have inspection milestones approaching. This will allow for preemptive safety assessments of the upcoming activity that can be communicated to all crafts. How many times has an inspection milestone that was otherwise available been punted to the next shift because of simultaneous operations that could have been rescheduled?

  • Perform cursory external visual inspections on equipment. Identifying external deficiencies on assets that can be followed upon as part of the internal inspection activities. Has, “I’m an IN-spector, not an OUT-spector,” ever caused major external damage to go unnoted, resulting in costly last minute repairs or on-stream mitigation?

  • Perform preliminary internal visual inspections from external vantage points (manway inspections). Identifying any unforeseen internal damage can allow assessment teams to have a jumpstart on analysis and mitigation, saving precious float time in the evaluation process. Has a major piece of equipment ever been opened with collapsed internals that went unnoticed for multiple shifts before inspection entry?

  • Engage with craftsmen and craft supervision throughout all stages of the turnaround event. Simply checking in with craftsmen who are performing work on our equipment may afford us the opportunity to remove roadblocks, correct inefficient practices, and troubleshoot difficulties. How many times has a lack of inspection presence allowed a simple mechanical milestone to significantly increase in cost and duration because of a lack of understanding or regard for parameters or intended outcomes?

Inversely, there are countless scenarios in which a reactive, disengaged inspector may (directly or indirectly) cost a client time and money by withholding that same valuable and necessary insight. This lackadaisical methodology can result in excessive budget growth, unnecessary float on sub-critical path equipment, and occasional critical path expansion. Not to mention the potential ramifications that the unchecked conditions could have on start-up, Process Safety Management, even run duration. In addition, nothing is gained and nothing is learned by our fellow industry professionals in the mechanical crafts, and the same subpar product will continue to be generated, turnaround after turnaround.

In conclusion, there is no way to definitively state that the Reactive Approach will result in turnaround catastrophe. Likewise, there is no way to say that a Proactive Approach will bring about turnaround utopia. What can be said is that when inspectors are proactive and engaged; we are properly filling our role as representatives of the owner/user and doing everything that can be done to ensure that mechanical integrity remains integrated into every step of the turnaround process. Another plus… They ain’t waiting on us!

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