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It’s crucial to keep maintenance top-of-mind, and accurate recordkeeping must be a huge part of that. Here are four strategies to consider.
By Dave Lubach
Most facility managers know of the importance of recordkeeping for maintenance repairs and inspections for all systems and equipment within institutional and commercial facilities. Incomplete or missing maintenance or inspection reports can lead to major issues when a building owner wants to sell a commercial building or in a situation involving a legal concern such as injuries or deaths occur as a result of a structure collapse or machine malfunction at an institutional facility, says Aaron Zimmerman, a partner at the construction defect law firm Berding & Weil.
“People who are documenting these issues, the people who are actually keeping the records – the plant engineers, maintenance personnel, even the janitors – they’re not thinking that six years from now we’re going to be in a lawsuit,” Zimmerman says.
The importance of documenting maintenance and inspections was brought to the forefront following the June 24, 2021, tragedy in Miami, when 98 people were killed during a condo collapse. The aftermath revealed several clues in the inspection records that indicated overlooked or disregarded issues that might have contributed to the tragedy.
The tragedy magnifies the need for facility managers to not only keep good records, but to act on repairs when the situation calls for it.
“For years and years people that were in charge with those maintenance obligations wanted to cut corners, pinch pennies, and say that they don’t want anything to do with this right now,” Zimmerman says of a common situation that unfolds for his profession. “And then years or decades down the road it all hits the fan and the damages are catastrophic.”
Zimmerman offers four suggestions for managers looking to improve their recordkeeping process.
1. Get everyone on the same page
While most technicians will have access to a spreadsheet or their department’s computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to record repairs, make sure that all employees are documenting the same way.
“Having too many hands in it, with too many styles all kind of being applied to the same issue and same process is absolutely problematic,” Zimmerman says. “And different building owners in different organizations are going to have different structures, but I think it’s very important that there’s a quality control and a streamlining of the process.”
2. Get new employees up to speed
Employee turnover can cause problems, so it’s important that new hires are trained about how the recordkeeping process works.
“You have a new manager come in and they’re not as familiar with the process, and they’re applying what they did at their last job,” Zimmerman says. “People have to be educated on this, advised on this, so it needs to flow back to a small number of people that are dialed in on this issue and they can then clean up and consolidate whatever records the maintenance crew or others down the ladder have applied to the recordkeeping process.”
3. Emphasize the importance of good recordkeeping
Staying on top of documenting repairs and maintenance from the outset prepares managers for any issues such as litigation that may emerge in the future.
“Something that needs to be conveyed to the people who will be in charge of this is that it’s not just enough to scribble down a few words on our iPad or punch some words into our Excel spread sheet,” Zimmerman says. “We want to be more thorough. We can take some notes in the field that are condensed, but at the end of the day, someone needs to be aware that these records live forever with the building, so we need to be careful that they are buttoned up.”
4. Keep maintenance top of mind
Regular meetings about maintenance are a good way to keep recordkeeping a priority among technicians.
“It’s something that needs to be reviewed, whether it’s on an annual basis or whether it’s quarterly, but go back and take a look at the maintenance records, and see where there are issues,” Zimmerman says. “Close them out by saying we documented that we repaired this issue, here’s the invoice to go along with it, here is the problem that was diagnosed, and this is how we fixed it. To the extent that you can have a nice file that says all that, a property owner is ahead of the game in case something goes wrong later on down the line.”