Preventive maintenance (PM) is as much about safety as it is about maintaining equipment to improve its life. Contractors realize that if they want their equipment to last a long time, they must establish a preventive maintenance schedule to ensure that oil and other fluids are changed as required, the air pressure in tires is checked regularly, tune-ups and adjustments are performed, etc. All of this is very important if you want to prevent breakdowns and equipment downtime.
There is more to PM than just taking care of equipment because many of the items that should be inspected, checked, replaced or repaired affect the safety of employees and the general public. Some of the common items include things such as brakes, tires, hydraulic lines, etc. Some of the less frequently thought of items would include windows, mirrors, steps, access ladders, horns, backup alarms and other often less significant parts which do not directly affect the operation of the equipment but can have a direct effect on safety.
Every contractor must ensure that his expensive heavy equipment is running well and that it is safe to operate. However, heavy equipment should not be alone on the PM schedule. For example, are your generators, trash pumps, welding units, jackhammers, compactors and other smaller pieces of equipment also included to ensure they are regularly and properly maintained and serviced?
Taking PM into the trenches would also include inspecting, repairing and/or replacing hand tools which are also important. For example, a cracked handle on a hammer could cause the head of the hammer to fly off and strike an employee, or a damaged shovel handle could break and cause an employee to lose balance, slip and fall. Even a ladder with a loose step could cause a worker to fall from an elevation. Something as simple as an extension cord that is missing a ground terminal could result in a worker being electrocuted. You get the point: Hand tools also need to be inspected and maintained as part of scheduled maintenance.
Without a doubt, small power tools such as electric drills, air hammers, chop saws, concrete saws and other tools also need regular attention. Never downplay the importance of maintaining this type of equipment because workers are often injured when using defective power hand tools.
Preventive Maintenance Program
The preventive maintenance program and schedule may not be found in your safety program, but it is as important to the prevention of accidents as are the safety rules and procedures. Although the rules and procedures may instruct employees not to use defective tools or equipment, how many times have you observed a worker using a defective ladder or hand tool because of expediency and the need to get the job done?
Contractors should establish an inventory of all equipment, small or large, as well as all power and hand tools. If an item has a serial number, it should be listed on the inventory; smaller hand tools can just be listed as a reminder to check them too. After creating an inventory list, turn it into a PM schedule. If you use PM software, which is readily available, it can be set up to remind someone that the equipment or tool is due for PM.
Preventive maintenance schedules and procedures are always included in the operator’s manual for heavy and small equipment. Managers should refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure the equipment is serviced regularly and that nothing is overlooked, especially things which could affect safety. All inspections should be thoroughly recorded and documented. In some situations, documentation is required by OSHA; in other citations, it could be critical in litigation if someone is injured. In any event, scheduled PM ensures inspections and maintenance are performed correctly and in a timely manner.
Although PM of hand tools may not be as formal as inspecting heavy equipment or even a power drill, they should be inspected on a scheduled basis. Some companies color code their hand tools with tape or paint with each color identifying when the tools need to be formally inspected.
We all know that shovels and other hand tools are often tossed into the back of a truck or into a trailer only to be seen again the next time they are needed. To avoid any problems, workers should be instructed to report damaged tools to their supervisor and the supervisor should be instructed to tag them defective immediately and remove them from the jobsite as soon as possible. Every supervisor and foreman should be provided with a supply of “defective tool tags.” If defective tools are not tagged and just lying around, they are fair game for an OSHA inspector or, more importantly, a worker could use them and be injured. If a tool is damaged, fix it or dispose of it.
think Benjamin Franklin may have been thinking of PM when he said, “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.” The implementation of a preventive maintenance program, schedule and procedures is a good way to ensure you get your money’s worth out of your equipment and tools and, more importantly, that it is an investment in safety.
George Kennedy is NUCA Vice President of Safety.