What is reactive maintenance?

Reactive maintenance, as opposed to preventive maintenance, involves addressing equipment malfunctions or breakdowns after they occur.
What is reactive maintenance?
Written by
Darren Stewart
Published on
April 12, 2023

Reactive maintenance, as opposed to preventive maintenance, involves addressing equipment malfunctions or breakdowns after they occur in order to restore the asset to its normal operating condition. Instead of taking pre-emptive measures to prevent issues, reactive maintenance focuses on responding to problems as they arise.

While reactive maintenance can be financially beneficial in terms of lower upfront costs and fewer staff members needed, relying solely on this approach is not recommended in the long run. It is advisable to implement a combination of routine, preventive, and reactive maintenance strategies, especially for valuable machinery or properties.

Different types of reactive maintenance exist, each with its own characteristics:

1. Breakdown maintenance: This type of maintenance is performed when a piece of equipment fails to start or operate. It often requires urgent repairs to minimize downtime and mitigate losses. Planned breakdowns, where maintenance can be prepared for and scheduled, can help reduce costs.

2. Run-to-failure maintenance: This deliberate strategy involves allowing a machine to operate until it breaks down naturally. No preventive maintenance is performed in advance. It is suitable for equipment that does not pose safety risks and can be repaired without interrupting production.

3. Corrective maintenance: This involves repairing a malfunctioning system to restore proper functioning. It targets defects or potential problem areas in equipment that is still operational, allowing for timely corrective actions.

4. Emergency maintenance: This type of maintenance addresses sudden breakdowns that pose a threat to health and safety. It requires a rapid response and often includes evacuation plans and emergency contact information.

Reactive maintenance offers benefits such as lower upfront costs, fewer staff members needed, and no planning time required. However, it also has disadvantages, including unpredictable budgets, unexpected equipment downtime, overtime for relevant employees, shorter equipment life expectancy, and higher energy costs.

To avoid excessive reliance on reactive maintenance, it is recommended to incorporate preventive maintenance techniques for higher-value equipment while utilising reactive maintenance for lower-value items. The costs associated with reactive maintenance can vary depending on the repairs needed and the value of the asset.

Reactive maintenance should be integrated into a broader maintenance program that considers the unique needs of the business and the assets involved. Calculating the value of assets, researching maintenance strategies, and using work order software or apps can aid in budgeting and decision-making.

5 examples of reactive maintenance

1. A care home's heating system stops working during winter.

In response to this unexpected breakdown, a maintenance team would be called to identify the cause of the issue, which could be a faulty thermostat or a malfunctioning boiler. The necessary repairs or replacements would then be carried out to restore the heating system and ensure a comfortable environment for the residents.

2. A property manager discovers a water leak in an apartment.

Upon noticing signs of water damage or receiving a complaint from a tenant, the property manager would promptly address the issue by calling a plumber. The plumber would assess the source of the leak, such as a burst pipe or a faulty faucet, and take the necessary actions to fix it and prevent further water damage.

3. The elevator in a care home becomes stuck between floors.

In the event of an elevator malfunction, a maintenance technician or an elevator service company would be contacted immediately. They would work to safely release any trapped individuals and then diagnose and repair the elevator to ensure its proper functioning, as elevators are critical for the mobility of residents and staff.

4. A property manager discovers a broken window in one of the units.

Upon inspection, if a broken window is found, the property manager would arrange for a glazier or a window repair service to replace the damaged windowpane. This reactive maintenance action ensures the safety, security, and comfort of the residents while addressing the issue promptly.

5. A care home's emergency lighting system fails during a power outage.

When the main power supply goes out, the emergency lighting system should automatically activate to provide illumination and aid in evacuations. If the system fails to function, an electrician or an emergency lighting specialist would be called to repair or replace the faulty components, ensuring the safety of the residents and staff during emergencies.

These examples illustrate how reactive maintenance plays a crucial role in promptly addressing unexpected issues to maintain a safe and comfortable living environment for residents and tenants.

Reactive Maintenance in Healthcare

While reactive maintenance is sometimes necessary, it can have significant implications for healthcare facilities.

In healthcare settings, where patient care and safety are paramount, reactive maintenance can lead to several challenges. First, unexpected equipment failures or facility issues can disrupt crucial medical procedures, resulting in delays, inconvenience, or even compromises in patient care. Additionally, reactive maintenance often involves higher costs, as emergency repairs or replacements may be required, and the lack of advanced planning can lead to expedited procurement processes.

Reactive maintenance also poses challenges in terms of resource management. It can strain maintenance staff and create scheduling conflicts as they must address urgent issues while balancing routine maintenance tasks. Furthermore, it can be difficult to accurately predict downtime for equipment or facilities, impacting the scheduling and availability of clinical spaces.

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Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

To mitigate the negative impacts of reactive maintenance in healthcare, a shift towards preventative maintenance strategies is recommended. Preventative maintenance involves regular inspections, preventive tasks, and predictive maintenance techniques to identify potential issues before they escalate into critical failures. This approach minimizes unplanned downtime, reduces costs associated with emergency repairs, and enhances the overall reliability and availability of healthcare equipment and facilities.

Implementing proactive maintenance strategies in healthcare typically involves establishing a comprehensive maintenance program, including preventive maintenance schedules, routine inspections, and condition-based monitoring. This program should be supported by appropriate healthcare maintenance management software to streamline maintenance operations, track equipment history, and generate reports on asset performance and maintenance activities.

By focusing on proactive maintenance, healthcare facilities can improve patient care, reduce costs, enhance operational efficiency, and extend the lifespan of critical equipment. It enables healthcare organizations to better allocate resources, reduce the risks associated with unexpected failures, and ultimately optimize their maintenance practices for the benefit of both patients and staff.

Implementing a reactive maintenance ticketing system

Many businesses implement a reactive maintenance ticket system such as FaultFixers to improve their maintenance processes.

Implementing a reactive ticket management system offers several key benefits. It streamlines communication by centralising maintenance requests and updates, ensuring efficient information flow between staff, technicians, and vendors. This results in prompt issue resolution, as tickets are quickly assigned and prioritised based on urgency. The system also enables data-driven decision making by providing insights into maintenance trends and response times. 

Additionally, it enhances accountability and documentation by creating a digital trail of maintenance activities, facilitating better tracking and analysis of maintenance needs and outcomes. Overall, a reactive ticket management system improves efficiency, reduces response times, and enables informed decision making in maintenance operations.

By understanding the advantages, disadvantages, and appropriate implementation of reactive maintenance, businesses can develop effective maintenance strategies to ensure smooth operations and minimise costs.

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