Preventive Building Maintenance for Managers: People that Do PM

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Up to this point, we've talked about all the things we need to do to create a successful preventive maintenance program. We've identified our organization's goals, We've spent a lot of time taking equipment inventories, We've found the equipment manufacturer's maintenance requirements, and we've set up a thorough system of record keeping. If you've followed the previous Sections, you have a pretty good PM program ready to go. As you begin to use the program, you'll find some areas that will need some minor adjustments but you are most of the way there.

We've discussed the organizational tools you will need such as equipment service manuals and your preventive maintenance schedule.

But when you consider all the components of an effective PM program, we haven't mentioned the most important part: your maintenance staff.

Your maintenance staff will be the most important component in making a PM program a success or a failure. No matter how good your PM schedules, procedures, and documentation, a maintenance workforce that is not up to the task will make your PM program ineffective.

Maintenance personnel are often self-described "jacks of all trades- masters of none." There is some truth to the idea that no one can be an expert in everything. Unfortunately, in a disappointingly large number of maintenance shops, there is a pervasive attitude that we are not masters of any skilled trade and that less than quality workmanship is good enough.

I prefer all maintenance people have the confidence and pride in their work to see themselves as "jacks of all trades" and to take pride in their ability to shift with ease from one trade to another during the day. It's true those of us who work across several trades each day will never develop a master's skill in every trade. That doesn't mean we should settle for sub standard work in any trade we are asked to tackle. We should take pride in our work and take pride in the fact that few trades people ever develop our breadth of knowledge and skill across so many crafts.

I cringe every time I hear a maintenance mechanic look at their own workmanship and comment: "Can't see it from my house." or "Good enough for government work." Comments like these indicate that quality is not a priority. An environment where below average workmanship is acceptable is poison to the effectiveness of a maintenance department and to a PM program.

For a PM program to be effective, the people doing the work must have the skills and willingness to do it correctly. If I had to choose between skills and willingness, I'd choose willingness any day. I can teach skills; I can't teach attitude. Most PM tasks are basic and simple. Anyone can learn them and do them well, if they have the desire to do so. Self confidence, pride in work well done, eagerness to improve skills, and willingness to do what is needed are more important to an effective PM program than technical expertise.

PM doesn't work if it's not done well. There are many opportunities in PM to cut corners. It's easy to use whatever lubricant you happen to have on hand instead of taking the time to get the proper lubricant. It's tempting to ignore a difficult to reach bearing in the back and only grease the more accessible ones. It's convenient to skip a few daily or weekly PM tasks because the equipment was fine yesterday and should be fine today. You need to be sure the people responsible for the work take it seriously and will do their best to do it correctly. There are a few management tricks to insure PM is being done, but being able to depend on your PM staff is important.

Sometimes the problems go beyond cutting corners. It's not unheard of for technicians to sign off on PM work as completed when no actual PM was done. I can't count the times I've found dry bearings, worn belts, or clogged roof drains when all the maintenance records indicated that PM was being completed according to the PM schedule.

I've even been assured large motors were being greased monthly (after we had to replace several) and found out the custodian who claimed to be doing the greasing didn't have a working grease gun in his building.

Not all maintenance personnel are undependable. I've had the benefit of working with several who are fantastic. I became a good maintenance mechanic because I learned from some amazing mechanics. These are the people you want in your maintenance department. The guy with the broken grease gun is not.


There are a lot of people who know more about managing people than I do. Human resource (HR) professionals talk about progressive discipline, training, motivation, and lots of other stuff that's supposed to turn bad employees into good employees. I believe that you can train people to do their job better. I believe you can sometimes turn a mediocre employee into a good one by providing encouragement, challenges, and direction. I also believe truly bad attitudes can't be trained away.

Repair-versus-replace decisions (see Section 2) sometimes have to be made about people too.

My skills are in the technical trades, construction, and in managing facilities. I am good at managing structures and equipment. As part of my duties, I also have to manage people. I think I'm a fairly good man ager of people, but it's not my passion. I have a good working relation ship with those who work for me. We get along well, the work gets done, and the work is usually pretty good. There's a low employment turn over rate, and I think most of the people in my department like their jobs and really don't hate coming to work. Considering maintenance is a tough field, full of unpleasant work, constant complaints (nobody ever calls to tell you something is working right), and very little appreciation, I consider myself a successful manager of people. However, I am not a management expert.

If you are having personnel problems likely to affect your new PM program, I would encourage you to get help from people who are experts.

Talk to your HR department, talk to your boss, find a co-worker skilled in this area, read any of the many books on management or attend one of the many seminars available on the topic. No matter what you do, don't let a bad employee hurt your PM program. In fact, don't let a bad employee hurt your department or your new PM program.


For your new PM program to be effective, all of the people performing the work of PM must consider it important. Getting them onboard should be an easy task if you can show them what's in it for them.

What's in it for them is the same thing that's in it for you. They can expect fewer emergencies, less disruptions, less difficult repairs, less occupant complaints, and a more stable, predictable work day. Instead of hiding and slinking away from your building's users, they'll be able to hold their head high, make eye contact, and feel proud of the condition of their building.

If you have a staff that cares about their work, the sell will be an easy one. A dedicated maintenance person shakes his head at equipment left to deteriorate. For those who really care, it drives us crazy to know something we are responsible for is in bad condition and we aren't doing anything about it. Maintenance people who care will prefer a system which prevents breakdowns over one which only reacts to breakdowns. We all fear new ideas, but if your staff doesn't quickly accept your new PM program, you're back to the repair versus replace decision I mentioned earlier.


Do you remember the first truism in this guide? It said that for PM to be successful, you must have an attitude of continual improvement. We all know people who are always tweaking things to try to make them better.

I'm one of those people. In fact, I've got the tweaking bug so bad it might be considered a mental disease. I do so much tweaking that I have a corner of my shop filled with over-tweaked projects which didn't quite work out. My maintenance crew calls it the "corner of shame."

While I might be an example of always trying to improve things gone awry, an attitude of continual improvement is essential in the maintenance department. One great thing about an attitude of continual improvement is when a few improvements work out, it can be contagious. If you are able to make a few improvements which make life easier for your staff (and PM is a big one), they will start to embrace doing things a little differently. People fear new ideas and change. Fortunately, maintenance people tend to be tweakers. If you're not a natural tweaker, hopefully you have staff that who are. Encourage it! An attitude of continual improvement is the essence of what PM is all about.


If your maintenance staff is the most essential part of your PM pro gram; and if it is imperative to embrace an attitude of continual improvement, it stands to reason that the most important area of continual improvement would be your maintenance staff.

I know training costs money and money spent on maintenance is already seen as a drain on company profits. There's also the fear that if you spend money to train an employee, the employee might leave and the training you paid for might benefit someone else. Wise people have said training someone and having them leave is still better than not training them and having them stay.

PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE TRUISM #7 -- Training employees and having them leave is better than not training them and having them stay.

Even well trained PM technicians will need to know exactly which PM procedures to follow for each piece of equipment. Since each type of equipment will have slightly different PM procedures, written procedures are another important part of your PM program. In Section 3 we discussed getting these written procedures from the equipment manufacturers and having the procedures available in the shop, on the maintenance work order, and even affixed directly to the equipment so the technician has them at his fingertips. It's important that these procedures be easily available. Even good mechanics will rely on their instincts and experience instead of doing it the manufacturer's way if the procedures aren't right at hand. If you make them look them up the procedures in the manual each time, they never will. Written procedures need to be available where the work is being done.

Training for preventive maintenance technicians should also include instruction on how to evaluate the overall condition of equipment. The technicians doing the work will see all of your building's equipment at regular intervals and should be looking for problems and not just per forming the PM tasks on each piece of equipment. PM technicians should be looking for specific problems and should let you know when an entire piece of equipment is reaching the end of its life. Their assessment along with your records of equipment maintenance and repairs will help to evaluate when it is time to make replacements.

Where to Get Staff Trained

Most PM tasks are simple and training can usually be done in house.

You or more senior maintenance persons can show newer techs how some of the work should be done. For more complex pieces of equipment, manufacturers are often willing to offer PM training either at their site or yours.

Spending the money to cover travel expenses, meals, and a hotel for your HVAC technician to make sure he knows how to properly maintain your $300,000 chiller would be a wise investment. Not spending money on this kind of training is being penny wise and pound foolish.

When new equipment is being purchased, you should be able to negotiate this training as part of the purchase price. Commissioning is the term used to describe the process of turning new equipment or a new building over from the manufacturer or installing contractor to the building owner. For large equipment or systems, this process should always include training for in-house staff about the operation and maintenance of the equipment.

As technology changes, so must the skills and knowledge of your maintenance staff. There are many organizations offering training on a wide variety of topics. There is surely someone who offers training in whatever area you feel training is needed. Seminars typically last from a day to a week and can cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Training should be a line item in your annual budget. If you do not have money ear-marked for training, make sure to include it in your next budget proposal. The justification is there. Everyone in the facilities maintenance business has anecdotal evidence that a lack of training can be ex pensive. I'm sure you can think of dozens of times when a well meaning maintenance person created an expensive problem by trying to do some thing beyond their abilities. Unless your organization is willing to pay for outside experts to do the maintenance that needs to be done, they need to train your in-house staff to have the necessary expertise.

An HVAC Example

Probably the place where a lack of training is most evident is in the maintenance of many facilities' HVAC systems. Most large buildings to day have some type of direct digital control (DDC) or building automation control (BAC) system to control the indoor environment. Typically these systems use complex networks of thermostats, humidistats, aqua stats, water and air flow switches, current sensors, IR occupancy sensors, and other devices to provide data to a central controller. This computer then controls every part of the heating and cooling system to maintain a comfortable environment while minimizing energy waste.

If your building is like most, your in-house staff has made adjustments over the years to solve specific problems. These control systems are so complex that most in-house technicians don't really understand the theory of operation of the system as a whole. Consequently, they don't understand how adjusting, bypassing, or switching one part of the system to manual operation affects the rest of the system.

After a few years of these adjustments being made, the system no longer works as designed and has had dozens of small band-aid modifications which have long since been forgotten. I've found flow switches jumped out, outside air dampers disconnected, variable flow controls locked wide open, variable frequency drives fixed at 60 Hz so they're no longer variable, balancing dampers adjusted to full open or full closed, and temperature sensors disabled.

Each of the dozens of people who made these adjustments was doing his best to fix a specific problem; not realizing how their fix would affect the rest of the system. Now the building is left with an HVAC system that can no longer do its job. The dozens of "fixes" that were done made things worse. And now that the system has been "fixed," occupant com plaints are through the roof meaning that more adjustments will need to be made to keep occupants comfortable. Because the system is no longer operating at the designed efficiency, the gas and electric bills are also high.

A lack of training causes exactly this type of problem. If someone on the maintenance staff had been trained and understood the operation of the HVAC system, it would have been repaired properly instead of being disabled. This is an example familiar to many buildings. Maintenance technicians with good intentions will produce poor results because of in adequate training.


Most PM tasks require the same types of tools used for regular maintenance and repairs. There are a few tools specific to PM such as thermal imaging cameras or mega-ohm meters for testing electrical insulation, but companies providing these services can usually be hired cheaper than the cost of the equipment. For most organizations, the initial investment in tools for PM will be very minimal if there is any investment needed at all.

All facilities are different in the size and skills of their in-house maintenance staff. In smaller buildings, minor maintenance may be performed by an in-house custodial staff that may not have specific trade skills. In these instances, a small investment in hand tools may need to be made.

A short list would include a set of wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, and a pair of pliers, oil cans and a grease gun. This would allow most PM tasks to be performed. Additional tools can be added as PM tasks are encountered. An oil drain pan and oil storage container for air compressor oil changes, a small thermometer to verify the discharge temperature of air conditioner units and to monitor water temperature, and a plug-in electrical receptacle tester to test electrical outlets are examples of additional tools which may be needed as work progresses.

The investment in tools cannot come without an investment in training. Expecting someone without maintenance skills to do even a relatively simple task such as changing a drive belt could result in equipment dam age or even personal injury.


When the United States and the Soviet Union first agreed to reduce our nuclear weapons arsenals, we adopted a policy of "trust but verify." We expressed to the world that we trusted our new friends, the Soviets, and had complete faith they would keep up their end of the bargain; but we were sending inspectors over just to be sure.

That's probably a good approach to take with your PM staff. There are many instances in maintenance departments when work has been signed off as completed but never actually was. There have been instances when the PM tasks which were easiest to do were completed but the hard to reach bearing all the way in the back has never been greased. The facilities manager or maintenance supervisor needs to inspect enough of the work being done to be sure it's being done and being done correctly. Even with a good dependable staff it's good policy to trust but verify. It's often said that "people do what you inspect, not what you expect."

PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE TRUISM #8: People do what you inspect, not what you expect

Having a place on the equipment to initial when PM work is completed is a good idea. You can purchase laminated tags made specifically for this purpose. If your PM tech actually has to walk all the way across campus to sign a tag on the machine, he's more likely to do the PM task while he's there. While an initial at the equipment isn't a guarantee of work completed, it does significantly improve the chances that it will happen.

It's also important to observe your staff doing some of the PM tasks.

You probably won't need to schedule or plan for this ahead of time. As you happen to bump into your staff during the work day, make pleasant conversation, and hang out for a few minutes while they're working. It will give you a chance to see if they are doing the work properly and to do some casual training if they aren't.


As mentioned before, mechanics who work across several different trades are often self proclaimed jacks-of-all-trades but masters-of-none.

If your in-house staff doesn't have some of the skills needed to complete parts of your PM program, it can make sense to hire an outside contractor to perform those parts.

In the previous example of the HVAC system made useless by years of in-house repairs, the installing contractor would have been better equipped to maintain the system. The cost would have been higher to have an outside contractor make the repairs but the repair costs almost certainly would have been offset by the energy savings realized by doing it right. Hiring an outside contractor makes even more sense when you consider the value of occupant satisfaction that was thrown away by doing the repairs in-house.

Many facilities have their roofs inspected by a roofing company every year. In-house staff perform monthly visual roof inspections looking for any obvious problems, keeping debris off the roof, and making sure roof drains are free of obstructions. Once a year a qualified roofing con tractor or consultant is asked to do a more thorough inspection. Roofing materials and installation methods have been changing over the past few decades and modern commercial roofs are more complex systems than most people realize. A roof can also be the single most expensive asset in a facility. Unless you happen to have someone on your staff who is unusually knowledgeable about modern roofing techniques and methods, out sourcing roof inspections almost certainly makes sense.

You might also want to include an independent third-party roofing consultant as one of your outsourced preventive maintenance people.

Many roofing warranties include an annual inspection by the roofing con tractor during the warranty period, which is often 10 years. While I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't trust your roofer, just keep in mind any problems that he finds will need to be repaired at his expense. He has a financial incentive to either find nothing or to recommend inexpensive band-aid repairs for any problems that are found. It's a good idea to have a roofing consultant make an inspection in addition to any inspections you might get from the installing contractor. Many roofing consultants will perform an inspection of your roof at three or five year increments and again just before the warranty expires to look for any problems that should be covered by the warranty. Independent third-party consultants can also advise you as to the proper methods your contractor should be using when making repairs.

Another reason facilities outsource some PM inspections is that many required inspections can only be completed by contractors who are licensed to do specific types of work. While you can do monthly in-house tests of your fire alarm system, only a licensed company can complete the required semi-annual inspections of smoke detectors. Your fire suppression system will need to be inspected and flow tested by a certified company each year or more often depending on your industry. Elevators, boilers, and backflow preventions are just a few more items which will most likely need to be inspected or tested by a certified company or licensed individual. There is a listing of roughly a hundred different of pieces of equipment and their inspection and testing requirements in Section 11.


The success of your PM program will depend more on the people doing the work then on any other factor. Maintenance budgets are often shoe string thin but you can't afford to skimp on your people. They will need the right training, the right tools, the right techniques, and the right attitude to make a PM program a success.


• The most important aspect of your PM program is your maintenance staff. Your maintenance staff's skills, training, and most importantly, attitude, can make or break a good PM program.

• If you are having difficulty in managing your PM staff, seek assistance. Your HR department, a skilled colleague, or formal training can help you to solve difficult personnel issues.

• Your PM program is important. If specific members of your maintenance staff are preventing the program's success; you may have to replace that individual. You cannot allow anyone to prevent your program or department from being successful.

• For PM staff to be prepared for their new tasks will require an investment in training. The attitude of continual improvement that makes a PM program successful also applies to continually improving the abilities of your maintenance people.

PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE TRUISM #7 -- Training employees and having them leave is better than not training them and having them stay.

• While its important to have faith in the dedication of your employees, it is also necessary to find ways to verify that PM work is being completed and being competed correctly.

PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE TRUISM #8 -- People do what you inspect, not what you expect

• There will be situations where it makes sense to outsource some PM tasks. Outsourcing makes sense when specialized skills are needed or when regulations and codes require certified or licensed individu als perform specific inspections and repairs.

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