Last reviewed 13 March 2019

Tighter budgets are making it tricky to prioritise maintenance and meet legislative requirements, especially when it comes to the workplace. Sebastian Mazurczak advises on using risk-based methodology to prioritise planned maintenance programmes.

Organisations are faced daily with difficult strategic decisions on how to invest in an efficient and effective way in their property maintenance regimes. For many, yearly budgets for maintenance are not large enough to cover all desired works, so it is essential that maintenance measures meet statutory legislative requirements.

An organisation’s sustainability can be threatened if the minimum requirements at least are not met. The consequences of not doing so include:

  • increased risk to people’s health and safety

  • the potential for legal enforcement

  • significant consequences to service operations

  • lower staff morale

  • the escalation of capital needed due to increased running costs.

Traditionally, actions are prioritised first by considering statutory and occupational health and safety requirements followed closely by business critical and operational requirements, with the remainder of issues with a lesser impact pushed back to a later time when resources are available.

Statutory obligations do tend to consume a large portion of budgets. However, insufficient investment can lead to postponement of key major repairs and replacements, creating backlogs which can lead to ad hoc critical works being done at a higher cost. If the assets do fall below minimum standards and possibly beyond economical repair, this could lead not only to having to replace them altogether, but to a material statutory breach. The Defective Premises Act 1972 and the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 put explicit duties on landlords and building occupiers to maintain premises in a good state of repair to prevent harm to anyone entering those premises.

A risk-based methodology can help decisions when planning maintenance programmes, allowing those responsible to prioritise the works deemed of high or significant risk while considering ongoing daily maintenance requirements to prevent the assets from falling into disrepair.

Types of maintenance

The types of maintenance that organisations are likely to be faced with can be broadly divided into “reactive” or “planned” categories.

Reactive maintenance: also known as “corrective” maintenance refers to often costly ad hoc interventions to respond to a failure. These could be identified either by general observations or incidents during day-to-day functioning. They can be:

  • routine repairs of any minor breakages with limited impact

  • urgent repairs required to minimise any disruption due to unforeseen breakdown

  • emergency repairs due to imminent risks to health and safety, or cause of major disruptions.

Most reactive works generally cannot be deferred, although certain non-serious repairs can be grouped together then become part of the planned maintenance if they do not pose a significant risk.

Planned maintenance also known as “preventive” or “lifecycle” maintenance, is a cost effective and efficient way of planning future maintenance works. These can either be identified by periodic statutory inspections as required by legislation, where corrective actions are identified for a building to remain compliant, or works forming lifecycle maintenance, identified through building condition surveys which highlight works needed to extend the life of the building or an asset. This process is a way of forward planning which aims to avoid any breakdowns and to maintain the integrity of the fabric of the building and ensures that it operates at its maximum efficiency. Depending on an organisation’s asset strategy and risk appetite, these works are then grouped and prioritised into:

  • essential works

  • important works

  • desirable works.

Any maintenance works deferred due to lack of funds or any other reasons form the backlog. These need to be reviewed and considered whenever future planned programmes are reviewed with the aim to reduce the backlog over time. Otherwise, these jobs become a liability and could cause an unwanted event or become beyond economical repair.

Risk-based management approach

A risk-based approach allows organisations to evaluate the criticality and the consequence of potential failures against the likelihood of the event happening. These scores are ranked and works can be prioritised according to the severity of the risk. This focuses on the key risks while not ignoring day-to-day affairs. The approach combines asset information with engineering knowledge and practical experience, in order to make a balanced decision on priorities. The organisation’s degree of risk appetite can also be taken into account when asking the important questions.

  • What degree of work being deferred is acceptable?

  • What level of risk is acceptable?

  • What is the life expectancy of the asset?

The process is as follows.

  • First, identify the risk and the severity of the impact should a failure occur, relating to the physical condition or the compliance required. Risks can be considered as being strategic (where failure would have a negative impact on an organisation’s objective) or operational (where there are impacts to daily operations).

  • Next, categorise the risks in terms of the likelihood of the undesirable event happening. The estimation should be based on previous historical information and competent technical judgment.

  • The level of risk can then be calculated for each item or scenario by multiplying the level of impact of the failure by the likelihood or probability of the failure happening.

  • The level of risk then is used to assess which pose the greatest level of threat to the organisation. This creates the priority list.

Low-risk essentials that fully comply with current statutory requirements can have works done at a later date.

Medium-risk essentials that comply fully with statutory requirements but require only minor actions of non-serious nature can be dealt with by close monitoring and included in maintenance programmes.

Significant risk elements, and where there is a breach of legislation, require action in the short term and need to be prioritised.

High-risk elements and those that seriously breach legislation require immediate attention to prevent catastrophic events.

Don’t risk it!

The condition of estates and assets are constantly changing and, if left unattended, will deteriorate. Having a risk-based approach for decision-making with regards to maintenance helps to optimise the efficiency of that maintenance.

Further information

Best practisce guidance on optimising your management of statutory checks and maintenance regimes can be obtained from: