The Right Tool for the Job

There are many analogies for having the right tool for the job. The most clearly stated is“Never bring a knife to a gunfight.” It just doesn’t get the job done. In the world of facilities maintenance, showing up without the proper tools can be costly in many ways. Also, there are potential problems concerning properly maintained tools and making sure any malfunctioning or worn out tools are replaced. Have you ever known someone that has used the handle end of a screwdriver to drive a nail, or maybe the blade end of a knife to drive a screw? While these options may work, they do not suit the desired result perfectly and both are somewhat dangerous.

In our offices, we select certain computer software to perform specific functions. We have data software that will calculate phenomenal combinations of functions, keep track of our inventories and tell us when to maintain our equipment. We have printers, copiers and other office equipment that are the tools of the office realm. We must remember to view the tools of our technical trades people with the same high regard we view the tools we use in the office. Could we use a bubble-jet printer? We could, but we would not be very efficient. A laser printer allows us to speed up the process and get more accomplished. The same philosophy should apply to the tools of our trades people.

Before we send our employees out on a job, it is our duty to make sure their toolboxes are as well prepared as are our offices. In our department, all new employees are given a kit of basic tools, such as screwdrivers, nut drivers, electrical testers and basic gripping tools, such as crescent wrenches and basic pliers, along with various tools that will help them perform their jobs efficiently and safely. Having a noncontact electrical current tester and a good set of basic hand tools is essential for any maintenance technician.

Looking beyond maintenance personnel, we make sure our other department employees are taken care of as well. We make sure the grounds personnel have a good set of pruners and the proper power tools, and the housekeepers have available a full contingent of chemicals, hand and power tools to get the job done right the first time.

I learned many years ago to listen to the trades people and their supervisors concerning their specific needs. They each spend enough time performing certain functions; they have complete knowledge and understanding of what tools will help them to do it better, quicker, easier or all three.

There are always cases for and against certain tools. In most minds, the primary argument against the purchase of a specific tool is the cost in relation to the amount of use that tool may receive. When dealing with a fixed or limited equipment budget, it is difficult to justify the expense of certain job-specific tools that are used infrequently. However, even though a tool may sit unused for much of the time, when it is needed it is indispensable.

Multipurpose tools are very useful as they cross over from job to job and many times from trade to trade. We recently purchased a multimeter for our HVAC technician that will allow us to change to different test heads, ranging from basic temperature and humidity to CO2 and air-flow readings, just to name a few. Tools such as this are cost-effective and very important to the technicians who use them. Listen to what they need, and work to get it for them if the need is proven.

Remember to perform regular tests and inspections on all tools in the field. Dull knives need to be sharpened to cut effectively, worn sides on a wrench or nut driver can damage fastening devices and electronic tools, such as gas detectors, require periodic calibration to ensure they perform properly. I would also add that electronic equipment that requires specific calibrations should be entered into the PM program so it is not forgotten when not in use. This way, it will be ready and reliable when it is needed. There is nothing worse, both in terms of cost and efficiency, than needing a tool only to find out it is not functional.

Finally, consider those items that are not specifically considered tools, but are essential to the successful completion of any job. These items can include such mundane things as rags, lubricants, oil absorbent, uniforms and all forms of personal protective equipment. Ensuring that ancillary equipment is available to all employees will provide a well-rounded shop and guarantee that field technicians are not hindered by something minor.

It is never as easy out there, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our employees have the tools they need to succeed.

Michael G. Steger is director of Physical Plant Services for National Management Resources Corp. at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at [email protected]