What Is Pencil Whipping?

Skipping maintenance checks or just doing them by the numbers can lead to large fines, unnecessary downtime caused by asset failure, or even more frequent injuries for your workforce. And much of these issues stem from pencil whipping.

You may not be familiar with the term, or maybe you heard it and asked, ‘what is pencil whipping?’ – in either case, we’ll discuss the dangers of pencil whipping – and how to preempt them.


The Pencil Whipping Definition

So what is pencil whipping exactly? Essentially, it’s a colloquial term for when workers, supervisors, safety managers, or other relevant technicians fill out an inspection, planned maintenance check, quality check, etc. without actually performing the inspection.

As you can imagine, this can have catastrophic consequences if it becomes a routine occurrence at your organization. That’s why businesses have invested into finding ways to prevent pencil whipping.

But before we can prescribe a solution to the problem, we have to further define pencil whipping and diagnose the root causes.

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We Have the Definition of Pencil Whipping – But Why Does It Happen?

We’ve all had that experience where you enter a public restroom that has that scheduled maintenance sheet displaying how often it is serviced, saying that it was recently inspected and cleaned . . . only to find that the facilities are anything but.

We instinctively understand that whoever was meant to inspect the facility either only did so in a cursory fashion, if at all.

Surprising though it may be, this actually occurs quite often with utilities assets and other critical infrastructure. In some instances, maintenance operations have been so sclerotic that some assets have gone unchecked for months. This dereliction of safety checks is a massive issue for the assets owners and the people that benefit from said assets.

Definition of Pencil Whipping

Source: Appalachian State University


Remember the horrific Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2008? The rig had missed 16 inspections since January 2005 and pencil whipping, in this case, would have been these inspections having been marked complete without ever having been conducted – and the consequences were disastrous.

But why does it happen in the first place?

There are a number of reasons that pencil whipping tends to occur; we’ve listed some of the most common reasons below – and how to discourage pencil whipping by solving them.


1. Overburdened Technicians

One common reason is that technicians charged with maintenance and recommending preventative maintenance are overburdened. In the Deepwater Horizon example above, the Minerals Management Services had 56 inspectors in the Gulf of Mexico to oversee 3,500 production facilities that operate 35,591 wells, according to the Interior Department (it also didn’t help that the inspectors were quite tight with oil industry insiders).

Technicians are highly skilled workers that have specific subject matter expertise and are therefore in demand. It makes sense that we have them sprinting off to handle a variety of inspecting all our assets. From planned maintenance to random checks, a lot can be shoveled onto these specialized workers’ plates.

When you couple the sheer volume of tasks with the often analog and paperwork-heavy nature of the inspections, it’s understandable why they would opt to cut corners.

How Do We Solve This

Naturally, the easiest solution is to hire more workers or reduce the workload of your existing staff, but that would dip into revenue (not to mention that finding top talent is difficult).

The next best solution (and the most cost-effective one) is to begin automating elements of your inspection.

The Pencil Whipping Definition

Things like data reporting and processing of recommendations made by inspectors can help eliminate pencil whipping by simply making the process far faster and more efficient.

Leveraging automated software solutions that can virtually mimic your current pen-and-paper reporting method can be a massive time saver and productivity enhancer.


2. Inefficient Process

If your process has gaps or inconsistencies, that can cause technicians to eschew the important aspects of their jobs in order to simply push through the frustration.

For instance, say you have a technician that has a conditioned-based monitoring task. These tasks are designed to identify any issue in the asset so that it can be addressed before it can develop into a larger and more unwieldy issue. But if these condition-based tasks are carried out time and again without any issues being identified and they require loads of paperwork and time-consuming reporting to fulfill, technicians may just begin skipping them. After all, they’ve never found an issue before – why would they now?

Of course, this is faulty and biased thinking, but it’s human nature: people don’t like ‘wasting’ time on something they don’t see value in.

How Do We Solve This

The best way to counteract this issue is to clearly communicate to the technicians the importance of these checkups – and ensure that supervisors are diligently checking reports to ensure that they are being executed.

Another way to eliminate these instances of pencil whipping is to automate the process in such a way that it isn’t as burdensome to the technician. After all, if it only took a few minutes to file a report versus an hour of paperwork, then the technician would have far fewer incentives to skip out on the report, as the time gained through pencil whipping simply wouldn’t justify the potential for loss.


3. Internal Pressure

This links with the first issue, but is distinct in a few ways.

Our world is dominated by Big Data and analytics. (For reference, Big Data is a term used to describe the huge amount of data you can collect, but also that this data grows over time. Exactly what you’ll see you aggregating operations and maintenance data.)

These numbers fuel businesses and any respectable organization leverages the available data to set targets, plan future goals, assess productivity and efficiency, etc.

But these metrics can, at times, be associated with unrealistic targets. If the goals for these technicians become unattainable (whether it’s relating to the frequency of checkups, thoroughness of inspections, or a proscribed number of maintenance requests allowed), then workers may begin to ignore these tasks and instead resort to pencil whipping. That way, they can hit their target metrics and not run afoul of supervisors and managers.

How Do We Solve This

This issue is cultural in nature; it requires your metrics to be realistic and your supervisors to communicate with their workers to ensure that they are realistic.

While it’s critical to have data-driven goals, having goals that are unattainable for your workforce engenders frustration, dissatisfaction, and pencil whipping – all of which will impact your bottom line in one way or another.

Learn More About How our CMMS Software can Improve Your Maintenance Process:


Enforcing a culture that respects its technicians and trusts them goes a long way towards eliminating the incentives of pencil whipping.


Pencil Whipping Meaning and How to Solve It

While there’s no one universal solution to all instances of pencil whipping, there is one pencil-whipping solution that’s proven to prevent these issues: computerized maintenance management software (CMMS).

With CMMS, you can automate many of these rote tasks so that technicians no longer feel overwhelmed, giving them their time back.

Best yet, when you work with a proven CMMS provider, they’ll manage the entire implementation process for you and can even customize the process so that it mirrors your pen-and-paper workflow – except now it’s digital and stored in the cloud.

This helps with reporting, accuracy, productivity, and overall makes it easier for your technicians to do their jobs.

You can use CMMS to help with:

  • Asset Inspections
  • Asset Work Orders
  • Fluid Sample Capabilities
  • Fleet Management
  • Jobs Planning & Maintenance Schedules
  • Field Team Logs & Visibility

And more.


60Hertz Energy – End Pencil Whipping and Optimize Your Inspection Processes

Pencil Whipping

Pencil whipping is wasteful and dangerous – but the good news is that 60Hertz Energy can help you stop it.

With our sophisticated inspection app, you can customize and optimize data collection by conveniently tracking both quantitative and qualitative information. Our software empowers your business with the ability to process data in real-time allowing for rapid response and more advanced troubleshooting. And all this is intuitively designed to match your current workflow patterns and steps.

At 60Hertz, we efficiently digitize your maintenance program and inspection checklists. You’ll quickly drive down costs by automating alert-triggered work orders and centrally managing field tickets. You’ll be able to leverage our TRAK App, intuitive and robust – a worker’s best friend.

Contact us today to discover how you can put an end to pencil whipping at your organization.


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