I have rarely come across a piece of equipment on a job site that mimics the sparkling look of a showroom model. Its use and abuse in the field does more than take away its appearance. Equipment and tools wear and can break down. It is expected.

But, these breakdowns cause downtime, result in costly repair or replacement and may create hazards. Electrical contractors need to implement a preventive maintenance (PM) program. An effective program is a series of actions that can extend the life of equipment or tools and/or help predict failure. The benefits are twofold. First, electrical contractors can prevent costly accidents. Second, they will see a greater return on their investment by approaching tool and equipment care from a cost-effective basis.

Before establishing a PM program, recognize that it is a long-term approach that requires an investment. PM is not simply providing periodic lubrication and adjustment. Inspectors must be trained and a tracking system implemented to record utilization, inspections, maintenance and failures. This information determines the basis for and timing of the maintenance schedule. The base can be run-hours, days, etc. The best scheduling method is to use a computer tracking system, such as NECA’s “Safety Expert System.” The vehicle, tool and equipment issuance applications in this software provide alarm systems activated by date.

Your evaluation should account for safety, followed by a comparison of breakdown costs versus maintaining the PM for that item. This comparison is only effective if the PM keeps the equipment operating at peak performance.

Your first priority is to analyze the potential hazards of unexpected failure. Any equipment or tool whose breakdown could result in injury must be included in the program. Protection of the employee itself justifies the investment. However, it is not the only reason. The average insurance claim for an accident is approximately $9,000. Hidden costs paid directly by the contractor have been estimated upward to 15 times the direct costs or claim. These costs include, but are not limited to, transportation of injured worker, lost time by fellow workers, cost of temporary help/overtime, administrative costs and payment of penalties or fines. A single failure that causes an accident could cost the contractor $135,000.

A formula from Managing Factory Maintenance by Joel Levitt, Springfield Resources can prove useful:

(Number of breakdowns x average cost per breakdown x 70 percent) > cost of PM system

It is based on the concept that your PM program can reduce breakdowns by 70 percent. By determining average number of breakdowns per year and the cost per breakdown and multiplying by 70 percent, you have the value of the program. Comparing that cost with the program’s cost will establish the justification to include or exclude the equipment from the PM program. When calculating PM cost, look at record keeping, inspections, adjustment, cleaning, lubrication and all repairs and maintenance. For the breakdown costs, factor in downtime, repairs, overtime and any other administrative or production-related costs. Remember to include estimated costs for lost sales.

Regardless of whether a piece of equipment is included in the PM program, you must always inspect for safety and provide proper care. Repairs must be performed safely. The equipment or tool design should permit routine lubrication and adjustment without requiring the removal of safeguards. Qualified workers must be trained to know what equipment or tools can be serviced while running and which ones cannot. Lockout/tagout procedures must be established for all equipment and tools. All qualified and affected workers must be trained in these procedures. These procedures should all include:

• Notification of supervisors and affected workers.

• Identification of all sources of residual energy.

• Use of padlocks and tags on lockout switches, levers and valves in the “off” position.

• Steps to ensure that all power sources are off and that stored electric, pneumatic and hydraulic energy has been released.

• Steps to control mechanical energy sources so they cannot move.

• Testing operator controls.

• After maintenance or repair, all equipment or tool safeguards are replaced and their proper operation checked.

• After maintenance, the equipment or tool is inspected for obstructions, including tools used to work on the equipment.

• After maintenance or repair, personnel are notified that the equipment or tool will be operated.

• Only after ensuring the equipment or tool can perform safely, remove padlocks.

Whenever maintenance and repair technicians have removed safeguards, make sure the technician has replaced them when the job is finished. Do not operate equipment without safeguards. Understanding the danger and control of all mechanical, electrical, pneumatic, hydraulic or a combination of these sources of hazardous energy is essential. EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a producer of safety manuals with training videos and software for contractors. Based in Alexandria, Va., he can be reached at 703.628.4326, or joconnor@intecweb.com.