Here are some tips for preparing your construction equipment for use in the summer heat, and some reminders about how to keep your assets and your people safe from sweltering temperatures.
When most of us picture vehicle breakdowns, we think of wintry temperatures and snowdrifts. But for those in the heavy industries, hot weather can cause just as much wear and tear on vehicles and equipment. Here are some tips for preparing your construction equipment for use in the summer heat, and some reminders about how to keep your assets and your people safe from sweltering temperatures.
1. Limit Direct Sun Exposure
Let's start with one of the more basic concepts: Limit your equipment's direct exposure to sunlight as much as possible. This is an important step to take if you want to prolong the life of your backhoes and other heavy equipment, including the many critical parts within them, such as hydraulics.
Access to outside storage facilities big enough to stow your equipment overnight is the ideal choice. But even parking equipment in the shade of a tree will do in a pinch, or for shorter idle periods. If the jobsite offers little or no relief from the heat of the sun, consider throwing a tarp over any equipment you intend to leave out in the elements. Doing this will protect them from direct sunlight and also the side effects of dry weather. Dry conditions mean more dust in the air, which means more chances for it to infiltrate your machines and cause problems.
2. Inspect Your Coolant Systems
According to some estimates, as much as 40 percent of equipment downtime is thanks to problems with, or failure to properly care for, equipment cooling systems. Before your crew and fleet dashes out into the sunshine to tackle your docket of ongoing jobs, make sure you understand the function, structure and proper maintenance of the coolant systems included in your machinery. Here are some preventive maintenance tips to keep in mind:
- Coolant should be flushed and replaced at least annually. If the coolant appears to contain impurities, including rust, perform this step more frequently and have an expert perform a more thorough inspection.
- Ensure there's no corrosion on the radiator and check the radiator cap for any physical damage or swelling.
- Perform a pressure test for each cooling system annually, or more often depending on how heavily the machine is used.
- Check the hoses for excessive pliancy as well as any signs of cracking.
Finally, check for leaks in the water pump and run a test to make sure the engine doesn't exceed manufacturer recommendations for temperature. It's also a good idea to replace the onboard thermostat every two years.
3. Check Your Tires for Optimal Inflation
As the weather gets warmer, be sure to pay closer attention to the inflation of your vehicle and equipment tires. The safest vehicles are those whose tires maintain optimal contact with the work surface. But over-inflating or under-inflating tires can compromise traction, hasten tread wear and even pose a risk of bursting and harming your workers.
In the summer months, over-inflated tires are liable to swell and create dangerous amounts of pressure. For every 10 degrees Fahrenheit the outside temperature rises, the pressure in tires increases by one pound per square inch. This is why blowouts are more common during the summer months. For the sake of worker safety, the longevity of your tires and the sure-footedness of your vehicles on the job site, spend some time each summer dialing in the correct pressure for every tire. It should fall within manufacturer specifications and leave some wiggle room for expansion during the long weeks and months of summer.
4. Ensure Your Batteries Are Up to the Task
Construction equipment comes in all shapes and sizes, but batteries are one thing many of your assets have in common. Winter is infamous for wreaking havoc on batteries and making it difficult to start vehicles and equipment when you need them. But summer can be just as harmful, if not more so. When you begin the summer months with a battery in an already weakened state, you increase that equipment's chances of a battery-related breakdown.
Some surveys indicate that barely more than half of polled construction equipment operators check on their battery health as part of their regular maintenance. But even if these batteries don't fail in summer, they probably will come wintertime if you let the problem continue. Warmer weather causes electrolytes in lead-acid batteries to evaporate. If these levels aren't checked and addressed, running your equipment anyway will cause that battery to fail prematurely and your work to come to a standstill.
It's worth noting that some newer equipment using absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries aren't susceptible to some of these risks. If you do most of your work in hotter climates and seasons or if your equipment is due for an upgrade, make sure you fully understand your battery options and how various climates can impact them.
5. Make Sure Vehicle A/C and Interiors Are Ready for the Heat
If you make use of heavy equipment with operator cabs, one of your first priorities this summer should be making sure vehicle interiors are ready to help your workers beat the heat. Check to make sure air conditioning systems are in good working order and look over all valves and hoses for leaks or other signs of damage. Make sure any other temperature remediation equipment, such as fans and sun visors, are present and in working order.
Maintaining operator comfort during the hotter seasons is important for their safety and the safety of the job site. If your operators are distracted by overwhelming conditions in the vehicle cab or on the verge of heat exhaustion, you run a higher risk of workplace accidents.
6. Consider Condition Monitoring and Other Technologies
One modern and increasingly indispensable part of preventive maintenance is what's known as "condition monitoring." Lots of construction equipment from today's biggest names comes with this type of functionality right out of the "box." Condition monitoring is a set of tools for machine operators that allows the real-time collection of digital health reports for machines and whole fleets.
These systems provide diagnostics on equipment performance down to the individual components in many cases, which can help you plan machine maintenance around your schedule and shield you from premature equipment failure brought on by the harsh conditions of summer.
7. Avoid 'Peak Hours' as Much as Possible
Here's one last recommendation that goes for equipment and workers alike: Stay indoors during "peak sunlight hours" as much as possible. This is when the sun is highest in the sky and temperatures tend to rise to potentially dangerous levels. The window varies depending on the time of year and where your jobsite is, but generally speaking, peak hours span from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
It's during these hours that your workers run the highest risk of sustaining damage to their skin. It's also when your machines are at the highest likelihood to overheat and bring your job to a halt.
Beating the heat and staying productive this summer isn't impossible — but it does require attention to regular equipment maintenance as well as genuine concern for the safety of your people and the longevity of your assets. Hopefully, now, you feel a little more prepared as you begin planning for the productive season ahead.
Megan R. Nichols is a technical writer and blogger who regularly publishes on sites like Industry Today, Manufacturing.net and Icons of Infrastructure. Megan also publishes twice weekly on her blog, Schooled By Science. Keep up with Megan by following her on Twitter @nicholsrmegan.