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Equipment Maintenance Safety Guide

Equipment Maintenance Safety Guide

By Diane M. Calabrese / Published April 2022

Photo by iStockphoto.com/doble-d

Well-maintained equipment undergirds safety. Do you want to beg trouble to call? Ignore a routine maintenance schedule. Substitute a generic part for the correct replacement part. Or do anything other than follow the manufacturer’s instructions. 

     Some digressions are innocent. They fall into the benign-neglect category. A contractor is so busy, and equipment keeps humming, so why take a pause? 

     The pause for routine maintenance ensures the shortest downtime cycles. Deviate from regular schedules, and a catastrophic failure will lead to serious downtime. 

     An equipment owner must commit to adhering to a maintenance schedule. Without the commitment, trouble will ensue, and time will be lost. Unfortunately, in some instances safety will be jeopardized.

     One component prone to neglect is the triplex pump, according to the team at Pumps and Pressure Inc. in Red Deer, AB, Canada, where J.E. (Jack) Tremain is president. Tremain relayed responses from his team.

     “Unless the customer is on a preventive maintenance schedule, we do not see the pump until there is a major problem,” says the Tremain team. “We try to explain that the warranty will not apply unless proper maintenance is completed. We also try to explain that proper maintenance is less costly than major repairs or replacement.”

     To enforce certain points, Tremain’s team members emphasize the connection between maintenance and safety. They “try to explain that in the mix are high pressures, high temperatures, and fast-moving parts, which add to the potential to cause damage to people and property.”

     Some responsibility for ensuring follow-through on regular maintenance resides with each party tied to a piece of equipment, explains Tremain’s team. “While it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to include and publish [relevant] information in their literature, the seller/distributor is the contact point for the customer.”

     In other words, explains Tremain’s team, the distributor has a particular “responsibility to make sure the consumer is aware of the information [from the manufacturer] and its importance to the cost effectiveness and safe operation of the equipment.” One way to sharpen awareness is to talk about the “importance of a scheduled preventive maintenance program.”

     The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides much advice and instruction regarding how to reduce hazards in a workplace. A recurring piece of advice from OSHA is this: “Conduct routine preventive maintenance of equipment facilities and controls to help prevent incidents due to equipment failure.”

     Most contractors can probably recite some version of the OSHA advisory. But again, time is money, and human nature often directs us to just keep going when we know there should be a time-out to check systems.

     Manufacturers go to great lengths to guide their equipment users toward adherence to maintenance schedules. Consider the approach of Hammelmann Corporation in La Porte, TX, a company at which Stephen LaViers serves in regional sales and rentals.

     LaViers says that one component that too often seems to not get the attention it should from equipment owners is the high-pressure water pump. His company aims to enforce the importance of maintenance on equipment purchases through several methods.

     “We offer operator and maintenance training with the purchase of the pump,” says LaViers. “We also offer advanced or additional training for a fee.”

     The more intimately reminders about regular maintenance can be tied to equipment, the better the chance they will be followed. LaViers says that hour meter alarms can serve as reminders. 

     Also helpful is a “checklist in the parts manual for different accumulated hours,” says LaViers. To accommodate both machines that see a lot of service and those that see less, checklists are structured according to daily/weekly/monthly/annually or 100/250/500/1000/2000 hours.

     “Proper maintenance training and suggested repair intervals are responsibilities that both manufacturers and distributors must share,” says LaViers. Moreover, maintenance and safety should be consistently coupled. “Always include safety checks in maintenance intervals.”

Control

     In the hierarchy of controls, the NIOSH [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health] suggests that in order to create a safe work environment, elimination—removal of the hazard—is the most basic step. Of course, whenever there is a machine, a power source, and an operator, there will be some risk in the workplace. (In theory, even a laptop or other portable electronic device could become a hazard, though rarely.)

     Pumps are at the heart of our industry. Removing them is not an option. Exacting attention to them is. And it constitutes the control so necessary to reducing risk.

     “When it comes to trouble for equipment owners, the pressure pump is prone to maintenance neglect,” says Keith Adams with Dyne Power Packs in Vero Beach, FL. “Proper pump maintenance is the key to the longevity of the unit. Changing the pump oil would be the number one neglected maintenance.”

     The triplex pumps from Adams’ company run on a 30-W nondetergent oil, which can be purchased at most auto parts stores. In addition to using the proper oil, there are several other things an owner should do to maintain the pump, he explains. “Use proper orifice sizing, keep unloader spike pressure low, change oil at first sight of color change, keep water fed to machine, in frigid temperatures winterize or flush pumps, and use downstream injection instead of inline.”

     To keep its customers thinking about routine maintenance, Adams’ company ensures every machine is accompanied by an owner’s manual and the maintenance manuals for components (engines, pumps, etc.) of the unit. “Our owner’s manuals provide and promote proper maintenance information for each machine. In addition, our distributors offer service and repair in full support of the line.”

     Adams and others who comment herein are realistic about the constraints on contractors who use their products, and they aim to help simplify their lives.

     “My favorite saying is, ‘Safety never takes a break,’” says Adams. “Machine maintenance is something that can easily be overlooked, especially when working long hours. We suggest that before each job the operators do a brief once-over on the machines and accessories.”

     In addition, Adams says equipment operators must be attentive to the environment of the equipment, and he gives an example.

     “On larger trailer-mounted units, road conditions can cause additional wear and tear on the machines,” explains Adams. “We stress the importance of checking mounting bolts, bushings, high-pressure fittings, etc. before each use.”

     Customization is an integral part of business at Adams’ company, “We work with our distributors to create tailored maintenance plans and safety features based on the machine usage of the customers,” he explains.

     Let’s assume for a moment that every contractor keeps the needs of pumps in mind. What about the familiar ancillaries? 

     “Leaking hoses and guns may seem like they will not harm anything, but in reality, they can lead to a premature failure of the check valve in the discharge port of the unloader,” says Derek Majewski, CFPS, marketing and business development specialist at Cat Pumps in Minneapolis, MN. “Once that fails, the unloader may not unload during operation and may create excess heat during bypass, leading to other parts or equipment malfunction.”

     Again, information for the purchaser is key. “We supply pump literature such as product data sheets, service manuals, and safety data sheets (SDS) with shipments of our pumps and complete pump/motor skid units,” says Majewski. 

     “Having information in hand ensures the purchaser is aware of the pump’s specifications—for example, pressure, flow, rpm, along with spare parts and kits available to them,” explains Majewski. To be sure, the company “creates and maintains documentation for all its pump models.”

     Access is made easy. “Everything is available online to everyone, but relevant hard copies of literature are also included with each order to equipment builders,” says Majewski. Augmenting the flow of information are service and informational videos (available to end users and distributors) as well as pump repair and training for distributors through service schools and online seminars. 

     “Well-maintained equipment is the safest equipment,” says Majewski. “Spending a little bit of time every day making sure your machinery is ready for the rigors of commercial use can ensure your equipment keeps running and that nobody gets injured during use.”

Consistency

     NIOSH advocates “prevention through design” (PtD) principles, which manufacturers in our industry subscribe to and amplify via standards for equipment certification. An excellent piece of equipment must be matched by a conscientious end user.

     There are big things and smaller things that must be done to maintain equipment and safety, explains Andrew Montan, marketing manager at Comet Pumps-Valley Industries in Paynesville, MN. “The big things are routine maintenance, proper winterization, and having the correct oil plug in the crankcase.”

     When the “most basic maintenance is sometimes not done, it lowers the life expectancy of the pump,” says Montan. “Every pump should have an initial oil change done after the first 50 hours of use as this is when the pump is being broken in.”

     Follow through after the first oil change with the correct 30-W nondetergent oil, says Montan. A change should be made every 500 hours. As for winterization, it applies in any region where a freeze could occur.

     “Winterization prevents freeze damage that could cause enough damage to your pump that you would need to replace the unit,” says Montan. Any machine being stored for a long interval should be winterized to keep “seals and internals of the pump moist, which prevents them from drying or cracking from prolonged storage.”

     And remember to attend to the oil plug on the crankcase, says Montan. “Our pumps have a shipping plug and a breather plug. The breather plug is very important to swap over to before using your pump as it allows the crankcase to breathe and prevents pressure buildup, which will cause damage to your pump…”

     Get advice from technicians if needed, says Montan. And make use of the array of supporting documents supplied by the manufacturer. Complete owner/operator manuals with troubleshooting and operation tips are paired with pumps, and educational videos can be accessed via the company website.

     Montan’s company also reminds customers that pumps must be used and maintained correctly not only to ensure longevity and safety but also to sustain warranties. “We try to have all the knowledge out there and available for owner/operators to view, as well as having a helpful and friendly support team for customers to call about troubleshooting and proper care of their pumps.”

     It’s not only failure to properly maintain equipment that can lead to breaches of safety. It is also failure to follow safe practices when maintaining equipment. 

     “Failure to follow safety procedures during operation and keeping up with maintenance can result in injury,” explains Montan. “Proper personal protection equipment helps prevent injury, as these pumps can push out a lot of pressure. Goggles can help keep debris, chemicals, and soaps from getting in our eyes.” (PPE is precisely what NIOSH puts at the apex of its hierarchy of controls for achieving safety.)

     Equipment is designed to be safe when operated within set parameters. Go outside the bounds and problems arise. “For example, running a pump unit with incorrect oil or oil levels can cause connecting rods to break or bearings to fail, which can throw debris through the crankcase of some pumps due to the high speeds they operate at,” explains Montan.

     Manufacturer and distributor share responsibility for educating the end user. “Communication between them is essential,” says Montan. He adds, “Letting each other know about any concerns that customers may have so we can get them correct answers and resolutions is how we work together to ensure that customers are properly educated.”

     Consistency in routine maintenance tied to good recordkeeping protects the equipment, the people working with the equipment, and the business. In the last case, should an incident occur, documentation of best practices in maintenance is available. 

     Finally, determination to follow through on all maintenance should be paired with safe practices during maintenance: Turn off, shut down, unplug before making even the most cursory examination of a machine or component; never add fuel to a hot engine; work on equipment in a well-lighted and stable place; and so on.

     Maintaining equipment for safe operation is as important as safely doing maintenance on equipment.

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