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Insufficient Machinery Maintenance Lead Cause of Incidents

Recent data shows 98% of Mobile Plant and Equipment fires are caused by insufficient maintenance. Regular cleaning and maintenance of mobile plant and equipment (MPE) can avoid major incidents, like fire, that damage and/or disrupt business operations.

Our Mobile Plant & Equipment Risk Engineer Hayden Reed says that while some incidents, such as crashes or extreme weather events can’t be prevented, other incidents, especially those relating to human error and maintenance, can.

He notes that often, when maintenance-related incidents occur, they’re repaired in-house, and no insurance claim is made. Even still, he says there’s a cost to the business, including disruption to daily operations and job delays.

“There’s also the time and cost of waiting for a repairer, hoping they can get the parts, possible injuries, investigations or reputational damage, possible site clean-up, possible machine clean-up, costs of oil, and potential damage if the hose made the bucket fall to ground for example,” he explains.

“With COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, extreme weather events and emerging economic pressures, replacement parts and plant can be hard to find and slow to replace.

“That’s why, now more than ever, preventing incidents – and reducing their severity and impact should they occur – is a critical business strategy.”

Reed says that of MPE claims over $50,000 made with NTI in financial year 2020-21, insufficient maintenance was responsible for around one-fifth of incidents. 

“These are basically claims where we’ll get a forensic investigator to look at what’s happened to cause an incident – usually a fire,” he says.

Of these incidents, equipment fire was by far the leading outcome at 98%. Around 80% being due to missed machinery maintenance opportunities, Reed points out. 

The leading causes of the fires were accumulation of debris, electrical faults (around 36% each) and hydraulic faults (around 18%).

So, how can businesses reduce the number of preventable incidents directly related to insufficient maintenance leading to fire? 

Reed suggests two key steps: regular cleaning; and regular maintenance beyond scheduled servicing intervals.


Heavy Equipment Maintenance for Fire Safety 

Cleaning  Tips for Fire Prevention

Keeping MPE clean doesn’t just make you look more professional and give your team members more pride in their jobs, he says. It also makes it easier to identify faults and avoid incidents – especially fires – caused by the build-up of debris, especially organic compounds, near heat sources.

This is especially the case for equipment directly exposed to organic materials, such as forestry and agricultural machines, but also soil turners and pumps, mulchers and the like.

Another risk factor, Reed says, is waste handling equipment, for example landfill or timber by-products. Even for relatively ‘clean’ plant such as cherry pickers and forklifts, cleanliness is a must, he believes.

Reed says MPE operators should consider whether the build-up of any debris presents a fire risk for equipment; and assess how big the risk is, taking into account temperatures, humidity, duty cycle of machine etc.

“You should definitely have a cleaning regime in place that reflects the nature of the work and the risk,” he says.

“Consideration should be given towards weather patterns and the machine’s duty cycle.

“You don’t want any build-up of debris or substances that could hide or cause a problem.”

Most cleaning is best performed by compressed air as water can compact material and make it bake on, depending on the material, Reed recommends.

“You can have a staged cleaning schedule – weekly/monthly in winter and other low-risk periods, but daily in summer,” he suggests.

Heavy Equipment Maintenance and Repair 

Besides debris, Reed says MPE operators should also ensure they undertake regular checking and maintenance of cables and hoses in high-risk areas, especially engine and pump bays near high-heat sources such as exhausts.

This is in addition to scheduled servicing and maintenance and is aimed at preventing any undesired and costly incidents.

Particular attention should be given to un-fused cables – from battery to isolator and starter motor, and from battery to alternator, Reed says.

If these rub through the insulation and find a way to earth, they will almost certainly cause a fire.

Reed advocates “good practice” as inspecting all hoses and cables every 500 hours, with special attention given to the high-risk areas.

“I am also a big supporter of conducting a high-risk hose/cable audit as a standalone job annually to ensure these items get the attention they deserve.

“A rule of thumb is anything over two years or 2,000 hours is increasing in risk for these events,” he adds.

Machinery Safety Near Open Fire

Additionally, Reed urges operators working near fires to adopt mitigation techniques to avoid potentially catastrophic events.

In the past two years he says NTI has recorded a claim a year where MPE working near a fire caught alight. 

“This could be from trying to clear a firebreak trail near a bushfire or a dozer pushing materials into a fire, usually logs in a paddock getting cleaned up. 

“We generally see an ember entering the air intake, lighting the air filter fabric and first seriously damaging the engine and next potentially writing off the machine,” Reed says.

“The second is where an ember enters the machine and due to debris, further heat and air movement, starts to kindle and results in a large equipment fire.”

Reed suggests such risks can be mitigated by:

  • Keeping machines clean and free from debris as much as reasonably practical;
  • For equipment working around fires, consider fire retardant air filters of pre-filters that cyclonically eject embers; and
  • For equipment frequently working around fires consider purpose-built fire guards and windows.

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