by Daniel Green
Have you ever seen the track fly off a Posi at high speed? How bout the oscillation joint come off a Moxy, Alaska Gold Diggers style? Ever seen an excavator bucket get airborne? Heavy equipment manufacturers, plant hirers, diesel fitters and demo & construction contractors will all agree that ninety-nine percent of machine issues are totally and utterly preventable. It may make good YouTube material but when a 3 tonne GP bucket lands right where you were standing only a moment before any humour you may have had about poor machine maintenance quickly disappears.
Guilty As Charged.
We’ve all been there. Late to work, the client or Supervisor has other machines and trades riding them so you palm the pre-start and just hook in. Once in a while this is probably acceptable. Failures don’t occur overnight. And most importantly, you’ve inspected your machine every day for the last 45 days, right? Right??
Inspecting and maintaining equipment, especially the big suckers, takes time. The flow on effect from neglect, misuse and abuse compounds little problems into big issues. No one likes to be ignored, machines included.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ you say, ‘I know.’ But if you know and still continue to ignore the needs of your machine then you belong to the most dangerous group: people who think they know but actually don’t.
The most workplace deaths on this sunny island are machine operators and drivers. With ever-increasing speed and power, construction machinery has the ability to cause a vast amount of carnage in a very short period of time [read: seconds]. Think back to the track flying off the Posi. What if your workmate was walking by when it happened? Even if your haul road was delineated he could still be in serious strife. A length of danger tape ain’t gonna stop a 70kg rubber band in full flight.
But he’s an operator like you, so he’s aware of the hazards, right? Maybe. Maybe he’s having an off day. And what if he’s not an operator? What if he’s a first year plumber in his first week in construction and this is his first job site? Or worse, what if your haul road runs by a public road and your airborne rubber band now ends up on the windscreen of a passing car? Not everyone understands how our machines operate and what happens when things go wrong.
No matter which way you slice it, unless there was a manufacturers fault in the track itself, this incident is completely avoidable. An inspection would have revealed that the track had either jumped the idler, that the sprocket was worn, that the tracks were loose and needed tensioning or that the track itself was fatigued and needed replacing. These are the types of things that are discovered in a thorough daily pre-start.
There’s a tale floating around about a contractor trimming the batter on a cutting a hundred miles west of Lightning Ridge in outback Queensland. The regular joe was on leave and so a ring-in was hired, but after three weeks on a fairly new 30t Volvo he quit in a huff. Just couldn’t get it to play ball. A few days later the local fella returned and before his first shift he completed a thorough pre-start. That Volvo swallowed eleven grease cartridges before it was satisfied. No wonder they could’t trim with it.
The time spent on machine maintenance is almost nothing compared to the time wasted trying to use the thing when it doesn’t work properly. As Paul Kelly sang, From little things big things grow, and minor acts of neglect add up to major [avoidable] mechanical failures, resulting in down time. If you want to know the full impact of down time, go ask the owner of the company you work for. I bet they can tell you the cost per hour of every machine in their fleet right off the top of their head.
It might seem counter-intuitive to be speaking of environmental concerns in the presence of diesel burning, grease consuming, hydraulic oil drinking iron beasts. But it’s because our machines are on the fringes of civilisation that we need to take the most care. Our rippers, buckets, tracks and tyres contact virgin soil every moment of every day. Additionally, we don’t know the destiny of the material we’re loading out. Perhaps its going to a farm as fill and the runoff will enter the water table of our favourite camping spot. It could be going to a nursery that supplies Bunnings with garden soil that we then use to grow herbs in our own backyard. Environmental factors are equally as important as financial ones.
A tube of decent grease costs $15.00. Twenty minutes of your time costs your boss, what, $25? Add a slosh of engine oil, a litre of hydraulic fluid and every week you’re talking a couple of hundred bucks. For a machine that costs upwards of $300k, that’s a pretty cheap insurance policy.
Is that the only expense? Not necessarily. There’s also the long term effect of down time that no one wants to talk about: lost contracts. If a business has a workforce that refuses to do pre-starts & basic maintenance, and those machines go down as a result then a primary contractor would be barking mad to hire them – especially if the timeline is tight [which, in civil/demo/construction, it almost always is]. Even strong businesses cannot sustain losses for very long. This will eventually affect you in a very personal way. So even if you think the boss has plenty of coin to throw around, the upkeep of your machine is paramount.
5. Future Business
Tier one builders have a strict focus on compliance. And rightly so, they have people to answer to. One of the many things a subbie has to submit during a tender is proof of the practice of machine pre-starts in the form of documentation. So the checks you make every morning are literally helping you stay employed.
With the world heading in its current direction, documentation is becoming more and more valuable. Not only to secure and maintain business but to capture data that can predict trends.
In 2015 Perfect adopted allocating, scheduling and record keeping software called Fieldworker. The program networks office computers to worker smart phones via the internet and gives management large volumes of information to stay informed across the continually developing landscape of a job site. One of the many things Fieldworker offers is the ability to create and edit forms for site workers to fill in. Since 2015, Perfect operators have been completing machine pre-start forms before a boom is slewed or a skid-steer throttled up. Those forms are updated to Fieldworker in real time, meaning Perfect Contracting management can make better decisions from a more informed vantage point.
The software is instantly exportable and uses geolocation and time stamping to provide an extra level of compliance. This, along with strict adherence to SafeWork legislation, regular training and frequent operator meetings ensures Perfect is fit for the next generation of clientele, and, is ready for the rigours of external auditing needed to maintain our CM3, ISO’s and GreenStar accreditations.
It may seem like a lot of information, but it all boils down to one simple, irrefutable fact: look after your machine and it will look after you.
Machine pre-starts: We Get It Done!
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