You already know the power of preventive maintenance. But knowing that something works is not the same as getting it to work for you. Step one to an efficient program is knowing how to write preventive maintenance checklists. 

But before you can write one, you need to know what exactly preventive maintenance checklists are and how they fit into and support your overall preventive maintenance planning, scheduling, and tracking. 

What is a preventive maintenance checklist?  

A preventive maintenance checklist is a clear list of things to check and do before closing out a preventive maintenance work order.  

To really understand them, it can help to take a further step back and start with a broader question: What is a checklist? 

For most people, in most cases, we keep checklists in our head, running through them when we need to be sure we haven’t overlooked anything. Think about when you’re leaving your house.  

You stand by the front door and think to yourself, “I’ve got my keys and my phone and my wallet. Windows are closed and I set the alarm. Alright, let’s go.”  

Once outside, you double-check that you properly locked the front door. It’s a short list and it never changes, so you never bother to write it down. But what about when you head to the store for groceries? The list is longer and changes a bit each time. In that case, it’s best to write it down.  

And then when it comes to complex operations involving many steps and sophisticated equipment, really the only way to ensure we’re doing it right is with a detailed checklist.  

What are the benefits of preventive maintenance checklists?  

The benefits are related to standardization and speed. PM checklists help you ensure that no matter who is doing the work, they’re doing it the same way everyone else is.  

Standards  

Instead of everyone having their own special way of doing things, there’s an established standard that everyone follows. This also makes the work faster. No one is stuck trying to work out their own methods on the fly.  

With a PM checklist, everyone has everything they need right there in front of them. And over time, as the older technicians retire, your checklists help new members of the maintenance team learn workflows and process faster.  

But even before that, they also help everyone with troubleshooting. If you know the team is fixing a pump the same way every time but it’s still failing more often than it should, it’s a lot easier to go back and fine-tune the fix. If everyone does everything differently, it’s a lot harder for you to know where you’re going wrong.  

Think of it this way: If everyone cooks the same dish the same way, and that dish tastes terrible, it’s easy to look at the recipe to find the problem. But if everyone is doing their own thing, how can you tell if the problem is too much salt or too little sugar? You can’t.  

Speed  

PM checklists also make everything faster because you’re not wasting time, second guessing your work or trying to remember if you remembered everything. Because you have the list right there in front of you, you can focus all your mental energy on looking at the right stuff and doing the right things, not remembering what they are.  

Here’s another way to think of it: When you’re trying to really belt out a song, it’s a lot easier to do that when you have the lyrics in front of you. Because you don’t have to worry about remembering the words, you can put your heart and soul into hitting those high notes. 

What are the types of preventive maintenance checklists?  

The first is pass/fail. For each statement on the list, you write down if it’s true or not. When you get to the end of the list, a predetermined number of true or false answers trigger a specific action.  

Customs declaration cards tend to work this way.  

  • Have you spent more than X amount of money?  
  • Do you have more than 200 cigarettes with you or more than one bottle of alcohol? 
  • Did you visit a farm while outside the country?  

Answering yes to any of these questions means a longer conversation with a customs officer.  But if you check no to every question, you hand in your card and keep going.  

The second type of preventive maintenance checklist is a list of things to do. It’s instructions that you’ve broken down into discrete steps.  

For example:  

  1. Shut down and lock out the blade.  
  2. Try to turn on the saw to confirm it is shut down.  
  3. Lock out the machine so no one tries to turn it on.  
  4. Remove the casing in front of the blade.  
  5. Visually inspect the belt for signs of wear, including flaking and cracks.  
  6. If there are no signs of wear, replace the casing, making sure it is securely in place.  
  7. Remove the lock-outs.  
  8. Turn machine on to ensure it is operational.  

Some types of preventive maintenance are common across industries. For example, the maintenance team at a manufacturing plant and the maintenance team at a five-star resort both check boilers. But there are other PMs that are more industry specific. So, only the team at the hotel are checking the heaters in the swimming pool.  

One of the many nice things about checklists is that they can help you with different types of preventive maintenance, and it’s worth quickly reviewing them to better understand how.  

What are the types of preventive maintenance?  

You can think of PMs as falling into one of two broad categories: things you look for and things you do.  

Inspections  

Here, you’re looking for small issues before they have a chance to grow into big problems. The classic inspection is the maintenance walkthrough, where techs go through the facility looking for early signs of trouble. It’s the same as when you periodically walk around your car looking at the tires and checking the driveway for oil stains. 

With inspections, though, you’re not limited to just what you can see with the naked eye. You’re also checking gauges and dashboards. For a formal leak and repair program, you can use sensitive meters and sophisticated cameras.  

Here, examples of preventive maintenance checklists include: 

  • Check for signs of leaks 
  • Test carbon monoxide detectors 
  • Inspect door and window locks 
  • Check for rodent and insect infestation 
  • Check and change lights 
  • Ensure exits are clear 

Basically, if you rely on something, you can add it to a checklist. 

Tasks  

Here, you’re doing more than just looking. If an inspection on your car tires is checking the pressure with a gauge, a task might be switching out the summer tires for the winter set. Or, at the manufacturing plant, instead of checking the temperature, you’re removing all the lubricant and replacing it.  

How often should you use preventive maintenance checklists?  

All the time. Every time someone on the team is working on a PM, they should be using checklists. But it also makes sense to reword the question a bit and ask, Do checklists help with PMs with different frequencies?  

Across industries, the answer is yes.  

Daily preventive maintenance checklists  

Most daily PMs, and this is for basically all industries, are inspections. If you find you have a PM task that you’re scheduling for every day, it’s a strong clue something is wrong. For example, if you’re changing out the fan belt on a motor daily, you need to find another vendor and invest in better fan belts.  

Examples of daily PMs where you can use a checklist include:  

  • Safety checks between shifts in a manufacturing plant  
  • Temperature checks for a boiler  
  • Pressure checks on car tires  
  • Chemical levels at a public pool 

Weekly preventive maintenance checklists  

Here again, it’s mostly checklists for different weekly inspections, including wear and tear on machines and lubricant levels.  

If you’re checking the levels at the pool daily, you can have a checklist set up to help you properly add chemicals once a week.  

Monthly preventive maintenance checklists  

As you move to monthly PMs, you likely start to add more tasks along with the inspections. So, instead of just checking air flow, you might be going in and changing out filters. 

At a restaurant, you can have a checklist for PMs related to cleaning out grease traps. At a lumber yard, you can have PMs for sharpening saw blades.  

Quarterly/seasonal preventive maintenance checklists  

Although the front office likely thinks in terms of business quarters, in the maintenance department, it makes more sense to think about seasonal PMs, including things like cleaning out the HVAC or switching the buildings over from heating to cooling, or back again.  

In many cases, you’re also dealing with mandated checks, for example fire suppression systems or elevator safety inspections, which means bringing in certified, licensed third-party vendors. They have their own processes to make sure they check everything, but you can also have checklists to ensure you have everything ready for when they arrive.  

Annual preventive maintenance checklists  

The general trend is that the more time there is between PMs, the deeper they go. So, for the daily inspection, you might check the boiler temperature to make sure it’s not too high. But for the annual PM, you start pulling the boiler apart to check internal valves and gauges.  

How should you write a preventive maintenance checklist?  

Armed with a better sense of what they are and how you can fit them into a preventive maintenance program, it’s time to start writing some checklists.  

Like nearly everything else in life, your success depends on how well you lay the groundwork and follow the process.  

Detailed data  

Start by gathering all the data you already have about your assets and equipment. Don’t be too picky at first, because you can’t always predict what’s going to come in handy. For example, you want the obvious info, including all the O&M manuals. But you should also look for any warranty information or service contracts, so you have a sense of what inspections and tasks to include and how you need to do them.  

Right people  

You also need to find a way to track down all the “unwritten” rules for your assets and equipment. In a lot of cases, maintenance teams have ways of doing things that, even though the technicians never properly document, everyone follows.  

Your hunt for this information brings you to this next step, which is finding the right people to include in the project. The only way to get all that “tribal knowledge” is to speak directly to the tribe.  

Shoot for a mix of both more experienced and newer technicians. The older techs know how the team has always done PMs while the younger techs, who likely more recently graduated from trade schools or related programs, might have a better sense of current best practices.  

Speaking of checklists, you can jot one down before talking with the junior techs to ensure they know their roles and responsibilities. For example, if you ask them about the proper procedures for flushing a pump, and they ask, “We have to flush the pumps?”, you know you’ve found a hole in their training.    

Careful order  

Now that you know what the team needs to do and how they tend to do it, you can start to write your checklists. There are a few things you should be careful with.  

One, double-check that you’re making checklists using good data. Just because that’s the way the team has always done a specific set of inspections, there’s no reason you can’t change it. In fact, creating checklists is an important opportunity for reviewing and improving maintenance department standard operating procedures.  

Two, try to put the items in a logical order that streamlines the process.  

Imagine you’re writing a checklist for a vehicle inspection.  

It makes sense to put all the items related to checking parts of the engine together, so the tech only has to open the hood once. You can also group items according to whether it’s related to something at the back of the car or closer to the front. For the lights, where some are at the front, but some are at the back, it still makes sense to put them all together because the tech needs to be sitting in the driver’s seat to turn them on and off.  

For a large asset in a production line, try to visualize where the tech needs to stand to check each item on the list. Where possible, have them move in straight lines from one end of the asset to the other.  

As always, safety is critical. If they need to lockout and tagout equipment before inspecting it, make sure those steps are included in the checklist. If they need to stand in a specific spot to safely check an asset, include that information, too.    

How does preventive maintenance software make everything easier with templates?  

Trying to create and share PM checklists has traditionally been a slow, error-prone process. Paper and spreadsheets tend to make everything a lot harder.   

Paper checklist forms  

Paper and maintenance are usually a tough mix. What you need for modern maintenance management is the ability to generate data easily and then keep it safe.  

But with paper, where so much of it is you copying things out by hand, there are too many chances to make mistakes. And even if you can write out a perfect copy, it’s a hassle to get it into the right hands. Either you have to chase down the techs or wait for them to come by the maintenance office.  

And once they have the paper copy in hand, it’s still just a piece of paper, which they can easily damage or misplace.  

Spreadsheet checklist sheets  

Spreadsheets make it a lot easier to copy and share data. All you need to do is copy and paste old checklists into new files before sending them out as email attachments. But now you have a new problem, which is that everyone has their own independent copy of your checklists.  

None of those files are connected to one another. If you make changes to the “master” copy on your desktop, it has zero effect on all the other copies floating out there. What you end up with is a lot of techs working from a lot of out-of-date checklists.  

PM checklist templates  

Modern preventive maintenance software solves these problems because all your data lives inside one central database, where it is safe, secure, and accessible. Any time you or anyone else with access and the right permission setting makes any changes, the data updates in real time.  

Once you create a checklist, everyone can see it. And if you need to update it, everyone sees the new, improved checklist right away. 

And because you’re saving your checklists as templates, you can easily add them to new PMs as you generate them. No more copying everything over by hand or using a copy of a copy on the photocopier. And no more copy and pasting from old random files, hoping you’re sending out the most current version.  

Next steps  

Ready to implement modern PM checklists?  

We’re here to help you get the solution that works best for you, including answering your questions about maintenance management software, helping you book a live software demo. 

Summary  

Before you can see the benefits of preventive maintenance, you need to build a solid program. At the heart of your PM inspections and tasks are preventive maintenance checklists, which help the team standardize and speed up their work. Across industries and regardless of the frequencies, you should include and use checklists to ensure the team is working smart and fast. To create checklists, you need to collect asset and PM data, collaborate with the maintenance techs, and carefully put each item in the right order to streamline PMs.

Traditionally, departments struggled with paper and spreadsheets for checklists. Paper makes it hard to generate and share lists. Spreadsheets make it too easy to share them, leading to everyone working from their own out-of-date versions. Modern preventive maintenance software makes everything easier by helping you keep all your data in one spot, where it’s safe, secure, and accessible. 

About the author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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