Increasing asset and equipment reliability starts with tightening quality control. Inspection checklists help you ensure the maintenance team’s doing the right work the right way, hitting established quality standards. But they help you do more than just boost asset uptime. Inspection checklists also help you ensure the health and safety for the maintenance team and everyone else in your facilities.
What are inspection checklists?
Maintenance professionals call them many different names, including heavy equipment inspection checklists, construction equipment inspection forms, equipment inspection forms, preventive maintenance checklists, facility maintenance checklists, factory inspection checklists, office inspection checklists, building inspection checklists, workplace safety inspection checklists, and equipment maintenance inspection checklists.
But for all the different names, they’re all roughly the same thing.
On the most basic level, a checklist is a list of things to check. We can get more expansive and say it’s an ordered list of tasks someone needs to perform before a specific action takes place. The goal of the list is to ensure that the end action is justified.
The classic example is the preflight checks pilots perform before takeoff. They have a list of tasks they must successfully complete to ensure it’s safe to fly. Some of the items are visual inspections. Others require them to manipulate the aircraft.
1. Master Switch – ON
2. Flaps – DOWN
3. Fuel Quantity Indicator – CHECK
4. Master Switch – OFF
Notice how they have to turn the master switch on before checking the flaps and fuel? That’s an important part of the definition of a checklist. It’s not just a list of tasks; those tasks are in a specific order. Until you’ve completed one step, you can’t move on to the next.
Preflight checks are a type of pre-use checklist. The goal is to confirm that the plane is safe to fly. There are other types, though, including maintenance checklists. They work the same way, but the goal is to confirm the asset or equipment is in good working order and doesn’t require repairs.
What are the benefits of an inspection checklist?
Checklists create consistency, and there’re a lot of benefits that come from being consistent.
Maintenance techs do inspections completely, properly
Pilots started using checklists because planes are complex machines with a lot of moving parts. There’s too much to safely remember, no matter how much experience a pilot might have.
In fact, experience might work against the pilots as they become overconfident and complacent over time. They start thinking, ‘I’ve done this a million times, and nothing’s gone wrong yet. I know what I’m doing. In fact, I could do this in my sleep.” Overconfidence is where disaster strikes.
It’s the same with maintenance technicians. The assets and equipment they need to maintain are complex, involving complex combinations of interconnected moving parts. There’s no way for technicians to remember everything.
In fact, pilots likely have it easier than your techs. They tend to focus on one type of aircraft, often one specific model. Techs have a lot of different equipment they need to master. Also, pilots are likely to fly the same plane more often. A 747 pilot could spend a lot of their career in the cockpit of the same type of plane, flying the same handful of routes. Techs might work on an asset and then not have to look at it again for weeks or months.
It’s not like riding a bike. Technical knowledge degrades over time, which is why many countries have regulations where pilots need to complete specific numbers of landing and takeoffs every six months to a year to stay current and proficient.
Maintenance techs learn how to complete inspections faster
Adding checklists to your workflow also makes it easier to train new technicians. The age-old tradition of having a master and apprentice is a time-honored system in the trades. People learn by working under the direct supervision of someone more experienced. But with checklists, you can speed this process along, setting up junior techs to work more independently sooner. The checklist tells them what tasks they need to complete, the order they need to follow.
Maintenance managers protect the whole organization
Checklists are a great way to make sure things are done right. But they’re also helpful when things go wrong.
When techs do every inspection the same way, it’s a lot easier to track down process-related problems and fix them. The reason is that there are fewer variables to investigate. For example, if every tech is checking and changing the lubricant according to the checklist and schedule, but you still have issues with excess heat from friction, you know you need to change lubricants.
And if there are ever any questions about compliance with government regulators, a solid record of checklists proves your good faith efforts to meet the standards, which can be a career-saver if the legal department ever becomes involved.
How can you tell you have a good inspection checklist?
By working backward from the benefits you should be seeing, you can judge a checklist’s effectiveness. If you’re not seeing these benefits, you should be updating your checklists.
1. Are new techs learning the ropes faster, able to work independently sooner?
2. Are techs working more consistently during inspections?
3. Are techs catching more issues before they have a chance to grow into big problems?
4. Am I collecting proof that I’m in line with current best practices and regulations?
If you can answer yes to all or most of these questions, there’s a good chance your checklists are working.
How can you create new inspection checklists? If you’re starting from scratch, where should you start?
It’s a multi-step, iterative process. It’s also a bit of a team effort.
Collect existing asset documentation
For new checklists, you can start by collecting everything you already have on that asset or piece of equipment, including historical maintenance and repairs histories, O&M manuals, and warranties.
The warranties are a good idea because there might be something you need to include on the checklist to avoid voiding the coverage. The manuals tell you what the manufacture recommends, while your own work order records give you a clear picture of past problems you want to avoid.
Also, make sure to reach out to the manufacturer to find out if there have been any recalls or updates. You want to make sure you aren’t missing any new developments older manuals don’t cover.
Talk with your maintenance techs
If all your department’s hard-won maintenance know-how is locked up in your senior techs’ heads, you’re running a lot of “key person” risk, which means all that knowledge can easily walk right out the door when those techs transfer or retire. It’s always a good idea to get as much of that tribal knowledge somewhere safe before you lose it, and creating checklists is one way to do it.
Because your techs know the assets and equipment well, they already have a good idea of how best to take care of them, what to look for, when to be worried, and when everything looks fine. When developing checklists, you can use anything from informal conversations to a formal sit-down meeting to get their insights down.
Organize for both location on the asset and asset’s location in the facility
Once you know the steps, you need to put them in order. Try to organize everything logically, based on where things are in the asset. If you were creating a checklist for a vehicle engine, start at the front and work your way back. Check the radiator and the fan. Then move on to the battery followed by the oil and windshield washer fluid. Next, look at the air filter.
Think about where parts are in the asset. Then think about where the asset is. You might have two similar assets but with different checklists, one for each location. An air compressor on your factory floor needs a different checklist than the same model located outside the building, exposed to the elements.
Think about health and safety all the way through
Make sure the checklist starts with instructions on how to safely lock out and tag out the asset or equipment, which is different than just turning it off.
Generally, locking out equipment involves four steps:
1. Identify all energy sources connected to where you’re inspecting.
2. Disable, redirect, or stop all that energy
3. Apply purpose-built devices to prevent anyone from starting it up.
4. Confirm that the asset is at a state of zero energy.
Make sure the checklist ends with instructions on how to put everything back together safely. If techs open panels to access the equipment, there needs to be instructions on how to replace and secure the panels. Often, the last step of a maintenance inspection involves starting up the asset or equipment to ensure everything is back where it needs to be.
One more thing: if your checklist is too long, it might not be safe. Why? Because once you get past a certain length, you run the risk of techs “pencil whipping” the checklist, rushing through because that’s the only way to get the inspection done without taking a ton of time. So, make sure you include everything on the checklist you need but nothing you don’t need.
Why should you use the digital checklist template built into EAM software?
Because it makes everything so much easier. It supports and simplifies every step of the process, from developing checklists to sharing them with the team, from making sure they’re current to updating them.
And because paper-based checklists are a nightmare.
If you’ve already implemented an EAM, you already have a lot of the information you need collected and protected in your cloud-based, always accessible database. If you’re stuck using paper, there’s no telling where you have all that information. It’s, and this is the best-case scenario, trapped in a neat stack of papers. But, and this is the more likely scenario, it’s scattered across multiple locations, unorganized and inaccessible.
From inside the EAM software, you can create checklists using templates that you can then add to any on-demand or preventive maintenance work order in just a few clicks. Need to update the items on the list?
As soon as you’ve updated the template, every new work order you generate contains new information. Because everything is done in one spot, you only have to make changes once.
The EAM takes care of all the boring repetitive work for you, and that means fewer mistakes and bad data in the system. Remember, boring, repetitive tasks are where people make lots of little mistakes.
With paper, you’re stuck doing all that admin work yourself, and even if you do it perfectly, there’s a lot less chance that everyone on the maintenance team is going to be as careful.
Inspections are critical for setting up and running a successful maintenance program. And at the heart of maintenance inspections is your equipment inspection checklist, an ordered list of things to look for and do prior to confirming an asset is ready to go.
Checklists come with a lot of benefits, including increased consistency so techs can learn the ropes faster and find problems sooner. A good checklist has everything in a logical order and focuses on health and safety throughout.
The best EAM solution makes the whole process of working with maintenance checklists, from development to deployment, a whole lot easier because it automates so many of the steps, and it’s in those little steps where bad data creeps in when you’re stuck using paper-based checklists.