What is Corrective Maintenance in Facilities Management?

By: Ryan Lee

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” It’s a phrase we’ve all heard before, and one that makes sense on the surface. It’s the mantra of corrective maintenance evangelists—people who believe in fixing problems as they arise, before they result in total failure. They’re not going to disrupt something that’s working fine, but they’re apt to spot inefficiencies and correct them before problems develop.

What is corrective maintenance and how does it differ from preventive of reactive maintenance? Think of it as an intermediary between the two: a way of fixing problems on-the-fly. In the scope of facilities maintenance, it’s a way to keep everything running as-intended, which allows companies to balance maintenance costs and avoid disrupting employees hard at work.

An overview of corrective maintenance

Corrective maintenance lives in the space between preventive maintenance and reactive maintenance. It’s about addressing small inefficiencies. Corrective maintenance looks at the factors that lead to failure and resolves them, to prevent the larger problem from forming. Think of it like getting an alignment for your car. Misalignment isn’t a problem per-say, but it can lead to all manner of them: everything from damaged tires to suspension issues.

Within the context of facility maintenance, there are ample opportunities for improved maintenance. Corrective maintenance seeks to use the clues from past problems as a means for preventing them in the future.

Examples of corrective maintenance

Corrective maintenance can occur at any scale. The process of vetting catalysts and preventing future problems isn’t limited by the size of a problem. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The building’s furnace breaks down in the middle of a cold snap. During the course of repairs, the HVAC tech spots a severely clogged filter that likely contributed to the failure. He changes the filter and recommends cleaning it every three months.
  • During a routine servicing of the copy machine, Cheryl notices a buildup of toner in the feed mechanism, which has been jamming lately. She clears it out and runs a few test pages to make sure it works fluidly. She adds “clean feed mechanism” to the SOP.
  • Nassim works on the ninth floor. He hears a squeaking noise every day when the elevator doors open on his floor. He submits a support ticket. During the next routine elevator service, maintenance checks the ticket and adjusts the cable and pully to prevent duress.

These scenarios illustrate the core tenants of corrective maintenance. Each involves a catalyst, investigation, and a peripheral service that prevents a larger problem from developing. Because it goes hand-in-hand with preventive and reactive maintenance, it’s best used in conjunction with them, as part of a continuum of service excellence.

Preventive vs. corrective maintenance

What makes corrective maintenance different from a preventive approach? In many ways, correcting is a form of preventing. That said, preventive focuses more on routine maintenance and upkeep—items you can schedule. You schedule fire suppression system maintenance quarterly so that it’s always ready in the event of a fire, for example.

Preventive maintenance comes with fixed costs that you can anticipate. Corrective solutions aren’t typically budgeted, but fall under discretionary maintenance spending. And, perhaps the biggest difference is that preventive maintenance anticipates problems; corrective maintenance mitigates them.

Reactive vs. corrective maintenance

By the time you get to reactive maintenance, a problem has already occurred. Nevertheless, reactive maintenance serves as a foundation for corrective maintenance. Why did the problem occur and what can we do to prevent a similar situation in the future? A reactive approach isn’t necessarily a bad one—it depends on context. For example, you wouldn’t change a lightbulb before it dies as a form of preventive maintenance.

Corrective maintenance is a way of ensuring reactive maintenance doesn’t keep happening. Learning from problems and addressing their catalysts is the corrective mindset at work. And while reactive maintenance works for some things, corrective action needs to follow it where a preventive approach might be possible.

When does corrective maintenance make sense?

Corrective maintenance is just one mode of maintenance in a broader strategy that includes preventive and reactive. It’s important to know where and when to apply it vs. other modalities.

Consider something like a plumbing leak in this context. Preventive doesn’t make sense: you wouldn’t replace a component that appears to work perfectly. Reactive is too late: if the leak goes unaddressed and the system fails, it’s a major disruption. Corrective maintenance is the right approach: a specific solution to an inefficiency.

Facility maintenance leaders need to understand the role of corrective maintenance and how it factors into a more complete strategy. Executed effectively, it plays a critical role in keeping facilities chugging along smoothly from day to day.


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