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Returning Idle Equipment to Normal Service After an Extended Shutdown

Idle Equipment Restoration

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many buildings have remained unoccupied for long periods of time. This presents a greater risk for property-related incidents.

Building systems are one area that require special attention. Returning your building services equipment (HVAC, electric power distribution, plumbing systems, etc.) to normal operation after an extended idle period can increase the risk of equipment failure, particularly during startup. Different types of deterioration can occur, such as sagging of rotating elements, migration of lubrication (caused largely by gravity) and oxidation of metal parts.

In most cases, this equipment will have remained in service during the shutdown. Regardless, it’s important to make sure everything operates properly before re-occupying your building(s).

  • Qualified contractors or employees familiar with the proper operation of the equipment should verify the equipment has no signs of leakage, sufficient fluid levels and is maintaining proper operating temperature. Where applicable, equipment cycling should occur within the normal operation parameters.
  • Electricians should restore electrical loads slowly to prevent damage to electrical systems. Maintenance personnel should monitor equipment operation as power is restored.
  • Investigate any unexpected conditions and resolve them prior to further operation. Follow normal preventive maintenance steps and reestablish a maintenance schedule.
  • Test emergency systems, such as emergency power generators, as soon as practical for proper operation in accordance with original equipment manufacturer (OEM) guidelines and normal practices. A service contractor or qualified technician should physically observe this testing.

Restoring Equipment to Normal Service

The necessary steps to restore equipment to normal service will depend on the amount and type of usage the equipment experienced during the shutdown. Age-related deterioration occurs in all equipment, even when equipment is not being operated.

For equipment that was shut down and not used:

  • Consult OEM guidance for initial setup or returing equipment to service.
  • Develop and follow a checklist for the equipment restoration process that includes verification of oil and coolant levels, removal of desiccant, checking for obstructions such as blocking or strapping that were placed to prevent unwanted movement, etc.
  • Replace lubricants and cooling fluids for critical equipment, if necessary.
  • Consult manufacturer’s guidelines for startup and break-in periods. Most equipment should not be operated at full capacity on restart.
  • Test installed safeguards, controls and interlocks as applicable during the restoration process.
  • For close tolerance machinery, calibration and alignment checks may be needed to help ensure sensors and measuring devices are functioning properly.
  • If possible, verify the moving parts of each piece of equipment are free and unobstructed prior to energizing.
  • Continuously monitor parameters for proper operation (fluid levels, oil pressure, temperature, etc.) during the startup process.
  • Increase the inspection frequency following restoration to service until normal operating conditions are established.

How to Treat Repurposed Equipment

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, your equipment may have been repurposed for an alternate use. This repurposing may have presented new exposures to your equipment. As you return to normal operations, it’s important to return the equipment configuration to its original use. Pay attention to restoring alterations and verify that the alternate use did not result in a detrimental condition.

  • Develop and follow a checklist for the equipment restoration process. This checklist should reverse any steps taken when the equipment was altered. It also should include routine maintenance per the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Thoroughly examine repurposed equipment, paying attention to any parts that may have been stressed differently than they would be during normal operation. Predictive testing (nondestructive examination, vibration analysis, lube oil analysis, etc.) should be used as necessary to verify machine integrity.
  • Repurposing machinery may create debris that is not present during normal operation. Clean unusual substances from all areas of the equipment.
  • Repurposing equipment may accelerate the normal wear and tear of parts such as belts, chains and bearings. Inspect and replace these components as necessary prior to returning the equipment to regular service. Implement a more frequent inspection schedule until normal wear patterns are re-established.

© 2020 The GuideOne Center for Risk Management, LLC. All rights reserved.This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.