Many pest and landscape companies, large and small, have terrific training programs for dealing with specific pests, plants, product labels, etc. We don’t see many organizations that spend enough time training on their pest and landscape spray equipment. How do we know this? By the types and numbers of avoidable problems we see in our equipment repair shop every day.
Use these Top 10 Spray Equipment Training Tips to create an effective equipment training program, which extends equipment life and reduces equipment headaches. Other benefits include: less downtime, lower repair expense, less overtime and fewer missed or delayed assignments.
1. Train on Day 1. Don’t assume they know.
Don’t ignore equipment in your new hire orientation training. Do your employees know how to properly and safely operate your pest control equipment? Make sure they understand your organization’s policies on equipment use and chemical application. For example, XYZ Company policy is to operate our power sprayer at 2 GPM and 75 PSI and here is how you check and adjust the pressure.
Don’t assume that because your new tech worked in pest/landscape at another organization in his/her previous job he or she knows what you expect. Tell them what you need them to do and put it in writing in your operations manual.
2. Train on “why” as well as “how”.
We are continually surprised at the number of pest and landscape technicians who don’t have any idea how their spray equipment works.
Some examples that demonstrate this lack of knowledge:
-Tech says his motor doesn’t work and points to the pump
-We ask tech when was the last time you checked the filter and he says, I didn’t know there was a filter
-Tech’s description of the problem is “my sprayer doesn’t work”.
If a tech has no idea how a piece of landscape spray equipment works, he will have no idea how to troubleshoot the problem or explain it to the boss or repair mechanic. A good description of the problem can result in faster resolution.
For example, a little understanding of the workings of a backpack sprayer might help the tech solve simple problems like the sprayer won’t build pressure. Installing an o-ring is something almost anyone can do and it requires no tools.
3. Once is not enough. Retrain periodically.
Just because you trained Tony Tech on day one, doesn't mean he is still doing what you want him to do. People forget. They get rushed. They find shortcuts. Shortcuts often shorten equipment life and cost you money. Do periodic equipment training.
4. Train techs to identify and report problems.
Technicians will live with problems.
Many of the equipment problems we see in our pest control equipment repair shop are significantly worse than they need to be. In too many instances, spray techs have ignored problems in the hope that they will go away. Remember, “hope” is not a strategy.
Equipment problems do not get better and they do not go away. Much like the slow drip of your kitchen faucet, weed spray equipment problems ALWAYS get worse. Small problems inevitably become big problems. Big problems cost more and take longer to fix.
When a tech reports a problem, don’t rip his head off. It will discourage him and others from reporting problems in the future.
5. Safety training.
Judging from some of the pest and landscape vehicles we service every day, safety is not always top of mind.A little attention in this area can prevent injuries, accidents, equipment damage and chemical spills.
We recommend sharing one safety tip a month with your technicians.
Do a quick check of weed spray equipment before driving off to ensure it is secure enough to remain in place in the event of a hard stop, sharp turn or accident. Unsecured pest control equipment can fly out of the vehicle creating a serious hazard as well as placing your company in a precarious legal situation.
Check to make sure you didn’t leave anything sitting on the tailgate, side rail or roof, where you are sure to damage it or lose it.
Look for, anticipate and head off problems before they occur. For example, is that power sprayer hose cracked and worn? Replace it before a chemical spill occurs.
Are all hot, sharp, moving or otherwise dangerous parts shielded to prevent technician injury?
Are vehicle and equipment kept clean and not covered in chemical?
Do you know how to deal with a chemical spill? Who will you call? What will you do? Is your spill kit stocked and in good condition?
Is your equipment selected, designed and positioned to prevent back injury?
6. Supervisors: trust but verify.
I recommend supervisors or managers perform periodic truck inspections. Start with regular, frequent inspections and reduce frequency as inspection results improve.
Equipment inspections can be scheduled or on a surprise basis. One company does a truck inspection bi-weekly before a technician collects his paycheck. Another company has one supervisor perform the inspections in the parking lot while another presents the monthly training meeting inside.
Remember, just because you told a technician that something was important during new hire training doesn’t mean they are still doing it. If technicians see that you are not following up, or that other technicians are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, the technician will question why it needs to be done. Equipment life will suffer.
7. Emergency field repairs save time and money.
Don’t let a small problem cause major disruptions in the day’s service schedule.
Keep easy-to-replace parts in each truck so that minor repairs can be completed in the field. A repair in the field saves a trip across town to the repair shop. The tech can complete scheduled stops without customer impact.
Key points when creating your emergency repair kit:
- Focus on minor, easy to accomplish repairs that don't require expensive tools.
- Customize the emergency repair kit based on your equipment, technicians, experience, etc.
- Consider technician skill when deciding what types of repairs he or she can perform. Remember: don’t send your ducks to eagle school.
- Be sure to provide training on how to use repair kits.
- Make sure technicians report the repairs they have made. When conducting truck inspections, check repair kits to see what parts are used. Track repairs to find problem areas. Modify repair kits based upon what you find.
A few dollars expended and a few moments spent training technicians to make field repairs will pay dividends well in excess of your cost. Your service levels will benefit as will your budget.
8. Pareto Says, focus on the big problems.
You’ve heard of the Pareto Principle. 20% of the stuff is responsible for 80% of the outcome. Pareto applies to weed spray equipment problems as well. Figure out what your most common equipment problems are and create a quick and easy way to reinforce these items with your crew. For example, these would be my top items:
- check and clean the filter
- release the pressure after each stop
- clean out your equipment regularly
- secure your equipment before driving off
- report problems immediately
Customize the list based on your equipment and experience and remind your techs and supervisors.
9. Surprise, its winter and equipment freezes.
We are shocked by the number of companies reporting freeze damage. Winter is not a surprise; we know it is coming. To prevent equipment damage and downtime, train your technicians on how to anticipate and prevent freeze damage and what to do when it occurs.
Remember, NEVER run frozen equipment or put hot water on it. Let it thaw out or you will cause serious damage.
Winter is already a slow period for most spray professionals. Don’t increase your problems by allowing a deep freeze to damage equipment. Make sure to have a training session on preventing freeze damage.
10. Driving safety.
The majority of workplace accidents are auto-related. The vehicle is likely the most expensive piece of equipment a landscape technician uses. It is not enough to say “drive safely” and give him or her the keys. Create a driving safety module. Get your insurance agent to help. Find resources online. Some key points:no speeding, no texting, what to do and say in case of an accident, who to call in case of an accident, etc.
A little time building and presenting spray equipment training to your team will pay big dividends in terms of downtime, repair expense and happy employees and customer. Cold winter months can be a great time to do some extra training in this area.
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