Ready to Work: The Importance of Performing Preventive Maintenance and Inspection Tasks
By Scott Owyen, Construction Executive
Aerial equipment, including booms, scissor lifts and telehandlers, are some of the most frequently used machines on jobsites. Because of this, these machines’ availability and productivity can be positively impacted by both the equipment owner and the equipment operator, following a manufacturer-prescribed routine for preventive maintenance and proactive inspections. Even if it’s not always convenient to take the time to perform these duties, it’s worth every minute if aerial equipment is “ready to work” and continues to perform productively in the field.
PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE IS KEY TO LONG LIFE, LASTING PRODUCTIVITY
In theory, preventive maintenance is the key to keeping aerial equipment running at peak efficiency and to getting a better return on invested capital (ROIC). But in practice, preventive maintenance routines are often postponed, or even neglected, in order to increase rental opportunities.
The reality is that performing routine maintenance tasks can save money. Most regular maintenance tasks can be handled in-house, by anyone experienced in aerial work platforms and familiar with a machine’s particular sounds and performance.
Make It a Habit
Preventive maintenance is a commitment that needs to be made before, during and after every rental. The maintenance tasks should be simple and easy to follow, yet provide attention to detail — it is easier to deal with things little by little rather than have something fail and face the consequences.
For example, before an aerial work platform goes out on a jobsite it is important to check the water levels in the battery. The condition of the battery is directly linked to the life and longevity of the machine. It is also important to check the oil and coolant levels.
The next step is to walk around the machine, checking for leaks and making sure all the machine’s systems are lubricated and functioning properly—have a grease gun handy to lubricate the systems if necessary.
While completing the visual inspection, be sure to also check:
- tire wear and condition;
- fastener tightness;
- measurements of the wear pads;
- hose and wiring routing for chafing;
- component cover latches and hinges;
- decal legibility;
- cable track integrity; and
- banjo keeper bolt integrity.
At the end of a project, it is important to wash down the entire unit, including underneath the machine — removing any dirt, dust, sand or other jobsite material that can accumulate and contaminate the machine — and lubricate again, according to the manufacturer’s lubrication plan. During this process, do a visual check for any external or internal damage, repairing and replacing as necessary. This is a good time to take care of paint touch-ups.
A Long-term Commitment
Good operating condition and extended life expectancy of aerial work platforms are largely influenced by regular care and maintenance. This goes beyond the daily care and feeding of the machine’s systems. It also includes longer-term attention.
Every six months, owners, operators and service technicians need to have an open discussion about how the equipment is being used day in and day out, as well as how it’s performing in the field. Also at this point, look at the maintenance records to spot any patterns — it is important to look at what components are failing and to determine why, how and when they failed. It is also important to know which components are holding up over time and to analyze those trends. Too often, the little things can be an indication of larger problems. These warning signs should never be ignored.
Some, or all, of these maintenance tasks will affect the residual value and on-the-job performance of the machine, as well as will influence your customers’ perceptions of your rental business and equipment.
Performing inspections is a crucial part of safe work practices when operating any aerial work platform equipment. These tasks must be done according to the manufacturer’s instructions found in their manual(s), by a qualified operator. Operator’s manuals should contain specific, detailed instructions on how to perform any inspections that need to be done before start-up each day.
What Is a Pre-operation Inspection?
The pre-operation inspection is a visual inspection performed by the operator prior to each work shift. The inspection is designed to discover if anything is apparently wrong with a machine before the operator performs the function tests. The operator’s manual contains information about how to perform this inspection.
When performing the pre-operating inspection, check for unauthorized modifications, damage or loose or missing parts. If damage or any unauthorized variation from factory delivered condition is discovered, the aerial platform must be tagged and removed from service. Remember: Repairs to the aerial platform shall only be made by a qualified service technician, according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Once repairs are completed, the operator must perform a pre-operation inspection again before going on to the function tests.
How Is a Workplace Inspection Performed?
The workplace inspection helps the operator determine if the workplace is suitable to operate the aerial work platform safely. It should be performed by the operator prior to moving the aerial work platform to the work place. The operator’s manual is a good resource for some of the recognized hazards the operator may encounter on the jobsite, but it’s always a good idea to check with the site supervisor or safety manager for any others.
Be aware of and avoid the following hazardous situations including:
- drop-offs or holes;
- bumps, floor obstructions or debris;
- sloped surfaces;
- unstable or slippery surfaces;
- overhead obstructions;
- high voltage conductors;
- inadequate surface support to withstand all forces imposed by the machine;
- wind and bad weather conditions;
- the presence of unauthorized personnel; and
- all other possibly unsafe conditions.
Always remember that it’s the operator’s responsibility to read and remember the workplace hazards, as well as to watch for and avoid them while moving, setting up and operating the aerial work platforms.
KICKING THE TIRES AND LIGHTING THE FIRES ISN’T ENOUGH
Aerial equipment just returned from a project is often scheduled to quickly return to the field. Before it does, though, it must be thoroughly inspected before the next project. The key word here is thorough. Consider a “ready to work” inspection similar to that of a quarterly inspection. And, if the machine is close to a service interval, get that out of the way before sending it back out into the field, since it is hard to know how many hours will be put on it before it is returned. Then, give the equipment a thorough inspection.
Consult the Manual
- Equipment manuals should not be ignored; they give an overview of the proper inspection maintenance and service procedures and forms.
- Make sure it is the right manual for the model series being inspected. Manufacturers are constantly updating equipment designs and features to meet the market’s needs, and an important inspection item might be missed if using an old manual.
- Machine decals, especially safety decals, have been installed for a reason, so make sure they are all installed and legible (i.e. free of dirt and damage).
- Use a stiff nylon brush with mild soap and water to clean dirt, grease, paint or grime off of the decals. If you’re not able to clean the decal sufficiently, replace it.
- Look for scratches, weld slag or other permanent marks on decals. Minor scratches or blemishes are okay, but if you cannot read a word, then it’s time to replace the decal.
Ground Control to Major Tom
- The upper controls are important to inspect, but don’t forget the ground controls. Inspect both the upper and ground controls to make sure both are in proper working order. Making sure both sets of controls work properly will avoid a potentially serious situation if the upper controls stop working when the basket is in the air.
- Use the service manual to verify that all speed functions are within spec limits. Preset factory speeds for travel, lift, etc. may start to vary as time goes by, so verify that the machine speeds are working appropriately. Sometimes speed controls can be tweaked by customers in the field, so it’s a good practice to always review operating speeds upon a rental return.
- Always check with the manufacturer for any open safety bulletins and make sure the ownership record is correct so that any potential future bulletins can be sent directly to the right person or company.
- Make sure that all machine safety features are working properly.
- Inspect safety cut-offs, tires, alarms, beacons, etc. to make sure they are all working properly.
Following these tips to make sure the machine is rental ready and will help to make sure the equipment operates as designed in the field and save service calls for down equipment.