Inspectioneering Journal

Worst-to-First in FEMI Performance – How One Site is Making it Happen

By John Reynolds, Principal Consultant at Intertek. This article appears in the March/April 2023 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.


This article presents a plan that is being implemented by one operating site to substantially upgrade the performance of their fixed equipment mechanical integrity (FEMI) program. The article is based on a real-life case in which I was involved where a hydrocarbon processing site (refining and petrochemicals) reacted to a detailed FEMI assessment that reviewed their performance on the 101 FEMI essential elements [1]. After its initial detailed FEMI assessment, the site put in place a plan to upgrade their performance from the fourth quartile (relatively poor FEMI performance in relation to their peers in the industry) to the first quartile (industry-leading performance in FEMI). Site management had realized that they were having far too many losses of primary containment (LOPC), costly reliability incidents, and significant economic losses due to FEMI failures of in-service equipment. These failures were causing unplanned shutdowns and, therefore, numerous loss profit opportunities (LPO) as well as process safety incidents.

This article summarizes the ten-step plan that the site implemented to move their FEMI performance from “worst-to-first” (i.e., fourth quartile to first quartile) and keep it there over the longer term. I can confirm this as a fact since I was an active participant in the initial FEMI assessment and subsequent follow-up evaluations after the site's implementation of their FEMI performance improvement plan. So how did they do it? This article summarizes most of the major changes the site made in its FEMI programs after the initial FEMI assessment exposed the extent of poor performance to technical and senior management at the site.

A Detailed FEMI Assessment

As mentioned above, the site kicked off its improvement journey with a detailed FEMI assessment, which is the best way to find out how FEMI programs need to be improved in all the key issues that were causing inadequate performance. The site did this using knowledgeable, skilled, experienced FEMI subject matter experts (SMEs). I use the word “assessment” in place of “audit” here, although they are much the same thing. However, in some places, the word “audit” has taken on a bad connotation in some companies that use audits “to punish people” for not doing their job. If assessments are done right, that doesn’t happen, and the focus is strictly on identifying management systems and procedures than need improvement including those controlled by site leadership.

In the case of this particular site, three knowledgeable, experienced FEMI SMEs came to the site with an established FEMI assessment protocol and spent two full weeks interviewing stakeholders, reviewing records, assessing the quality and compliance of all site FEMI management systems, procedures, and practices and left the site with a detailed report of what was lacking and what issues needed improvement [2]. Such assessments can be what is referred to in process safety terms as a “second party assessment” in that they are conducted by FEMI SMEs from other company sites (including their head office personnel) within that same company. But, more commonly, for most companies that do not have enough qualified, knowledgeable, experienced FEMI assessors on staff, there are FEMI service companies that do have them available and can do a good job. Outside contract FEMI resources to do assessments are typically referred to as “third-party assessors,” while assessors from the same site that is being assessed are called “first-party assessors.” Each of these assessment types has a place in our continuous improvement journey. Those sites hiring third-party assessors are warned to be cautious since there are some service companies and/or contractors that claim they can do it but don’t have the experienced staff, skills, or protocol available to do a good job for you. So, careful vetting of potential third-party assessors is necessary to ensure that they can do a top-quality job for you.

Once the FEMI assessment at this site was finished and the results were handed over to site management, it was up to site management and associated technical leadership to implement improvements based on the assessment findings in order to embark on their “worst-to-first journey.” Since the management at this site requested the assessment because of relatively poor process safety performance and significant LPO, they were eager to make the necessary changes. In this case, management and FEMI leadership were able to put together and implement an effective program to implement their “worst-to-first journey” by focusing on the following ten major management systems for FEMI.

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