Five key elements to successful outage planning

Conscientious planning of an outage will reduce risk and make it easier for staff to work effectively.
Published: Tue 22 Jul 2014

Successful outage projects succeed because of careful planning but many projects fail without it. This is according to Nick Gaglia,vice president of project management, maintenance and construction at NAES Corp.

Glaglia explains that in order to get it right, you have to define work scopes and schedules, stage scaffolding and tools, purchase materials and services, order spares and arrange for support staff. You'll want to work through the appropriate union, where applicable, to ensure staff needs are met with quality people when you need them.

1 - A well-organized plan

To complete a significant outage project on schedule, your plan of execution must be well-organized. This includes new-hire safety training and site orientation down to orchestrating the work on a daily and hourly basis. That means close scheduling of craft, tools, materials and support staff to stay on schedule and not compromise safety or efficiency. Pre-job safety training is critical and will go a long way toward ensuring the work is done safely and according to best practices.

Planning begins with defining the scope, and it’s best to get the contractor involved from the beginning. Project contractors must work closely with the client's engineers and managers from the start to ensure successful collaboration. For a long-term maintenance or capital asset project, outage planning begins at least a year in advance, and the contractor and client must work together to develop budget and schedule. This enables the client to justify and allocate the proper time and funding. Once the project is approved and the subcontractors selected, the contractor assists the client with reviewing the overall scope and preliminary drawings and specifications. The more informed the contractor is, the more successful the execution will be.

Contractors may identify simpler solutions which could save the client a great deal of time and money. For instance, the contractor should identify any facets of the project that can be done prior to shutting down the units. With proper planning, project s can be completed ahead of schedule.

2 - Smaller manageable tasks

After defining the scope and identifying pre-outage work, the client and contractor should firm up price and schedule. A work breakdown structure (WBS) makes this easier by enabling the team to break up a large project into smaller, more manageable tasks. These tasks can then be estimated more accurately for duration and manpower resources.

Developing an accurate WBS also helps with tracking the project, making it easy to assess how far the work has progressed at any given point. Using a project management tool such as earned value analysis will improve execution. For repair work based on inspection, it's easy to estimate these jobs using experience at sites where there's a long-term maintenance contract. Once all the repair work and projects have been estimated, total resources can be figured out by craft.

3 - Keep everyone informed

Keeping all parties informed is another critical part of outage planning. Many power plants are at remote sites and require a large travelling work force to perform the overhaul. This makes it essential to work with the local union halls or local craft labour because large overhauls can require as many as 600 workers.

Most union agreements call for a pre-job conference, which is the proper occasion for explaining manpower requirements. Working closely with the unions and explaining resource needs well in advance will help them attract skilled employees to the job.

It's essential to seek out key craftspeople for the lead roles on an outage project and to get them involved as early as possible. If they are on board from the start, they'll gain valuable knowledge of the project and offer their advice and buy-in on schedule, work flow and resource requirements.

4 - Safety Doesn't Happen by Accident

Safety must be included in every phase of the project--the planning and the execution.

It is essential to recognize, understand and mitigate any potential hazards. A good start is to work up a job hazard analysis during the planning phase. Confined-space work must be identified and procedures drawn up for carrying it out safely. Personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements must be established for any jobs not covered by standard safety requirements. Specialty equipment--fresh air, harnesses, retrieval devices and so forth--must be budgeted and procured. Getting the safety team involved early in the project will ensure a safe outage.

5 - Subcontractors are also essential

Subcontractors--whether they report to the contractor or the client--should not be viewed as bit players in an outage project. Excluding them from the planning phase can result in serious frustration later.

Typically, it's during the critical first week of an overhaul that this has the most impact. To avoid subcontractor pitfalls, set realistic expectations for them during the outage planning meeting. Get commitments on their work scope and durations. This will eliminate major bottlenecks, such as having 500 people sitting on their thumbs, delayed by subcontractors whose scope of work and schedule has not been integrated properly into the master outage plan.

All four phases of a project require serious attention, but working up a thoughtful, comprehensive outage plan and including all players in the process can improve the chances of having a safe, efficient and successful outage.