Maintenance is more than just about the upkeep of equipment. In fact, it’s more than a way to reduce downtime or unanticipated delays. Maintenance is a key element of an organization’s safety program. Routinely performed preventative maintenance reduces hazards that may otherwise lead to a serious incident or injury.
Equipment used throughout a construction job — ranging from hand tools and PPE to fleet vehicles and heavy operating equipment — must be regularly serviced and maintained. According to OSHA’s Hand and Power Tools Booklet, “Tools are such a common part of our lives that it is difficult to remember that they may pose hazards. The greatest hazards posed by hand tools result from misuse and improper maintenance.”
OSHA cites five basic safety rules to prevent hazards associated with the use of hand and power tools. These rules can be applied universally to all tools and equipment used throughout the jobsite.
Keep all tools in good condition with regular maintenance.
Use the right tool for the job.
Examine each tool for damage before use, and do not use damaged tools.
Operate tools according to the manufacturers’ instructions.
Provide and use properly the right personal protective equipment.
Though preventative maintenance is largely about adequately caring for tools and equipment, that is not the comprehensive scope of the task. Preventative maintenance also includes having supplies on hand to provide a safe work environment in all conditions. For example, are fire extinguishers in readily available locations and working conditions? Is a back-up generator ready to work in case of power failure? Is the jobsite fully stocked with salt to combat potential icy conditions? These are all considerations that should be proactively examined to reduce downtime and injury.
Ensuring employees are part of preventative maintenance is crucial to the success of a maintenance plan. Employees should always thoroughly inspect tools and equipment prior to use for issues such as low fluid levels, wear trends, missing parts, and other factors that could negatively impact use. If an issue is detected, employees should stop work and bring the issue to a supervisor’s attention.
PLH Group — a power line construction, pipeline construction, and specialty contractor serving the energy sector — included Stop Work Responsibility in the company’s PREVENT safety program.
“We not only empower, but require, all employees to stop work if they are unsure if the situation is safe. This includes stopping work if tools, equipment, and PPE may have integrity issues,” said Elsie Bentley, vice president of Safety, Health, and Environmental for PLH Group. “We value all of our employees and those living in the communities we serve. Preventative maintenance techniques ensure their health and safety are never compromised.”
Creating a Preventative Maintenance Plan
A preventative maintenance plan is a crucial element of an organization’s safety plan. Factors that should be addressed in a maintenance plan include:
Thorough listing of tools, equipment, and areas that require routine maintenance.
Manufacturer’s recommendations for proper maintenance techniques and time cycles per manufacturer’s manual.
Information or observations from primary tool or equipment operators within the organization, such as wear trends or potential issues with the performance of the equipment.
Routine cleaning to reduce buildup, ensuring the performance and integrity of tools or equipment.
Proper storage of tools and equipment, especially ensuring they stay out of severe weather conditions, if necessary.
Organizations that incorporate preventative maintenance into work schedules elongate the life expectancy of tools and equipment while reducing worker downtime. More importantly, though, these proactive routines reduce the risk of injury, keeping employees and communities served safe.