Are your refrigeration technicians’ workloads turning them into white-knuckle drivers, or emotional "gasket-cases" who aren’t as sharp (or maybe even as safe) as they were when you first hired them? Maybe it’s time for a change in how you handle their scheduling.

Technician burnout is real. It could even happen to your best technicians, only they won’t let it show until they make a big, uncharacteristic mistake, or quit suddenly out of total frustration.

The busy season will soon be upon us. Here, commercial refrigeration company managers offer advice to help you prevent your technicians from feeling the strain of overwork. — Terry McIver, executive editor

Dan Steffen, vice president, AAA Refrigeration Services, Bronx, NY (the 2008 Contracting Business.com Commercial Refrigeration Contractor of the Year):

One of the most effective methods to prevent technician burnout is by performing comprehensive planned maintenances during slower months, which in our geographic region is from October through May.

We’ve found measurable success by assigning technicians to specific stores, and allowing them an uninterrupted time frame based on the size of the store, to check for and repair refrigerant leaks, replace faulty parts, and change oil, filters, driers, and cores. As a result, the stores’ equipment typically operates better under conditions that fall outside of their design parameters and allows for technicians to go home at night and spend more time with their families.

This practice benefits our customers through energy savings and reduced failure, but has also allowed us to grant summer vacations to technicians who have earned the time. This practice is a very rare in our industry. Equipment — no matter how well it’s maintained, will eventually fail — and there will be times when technicians are pulled out at random hours and for an extended duration. Recognizing that the safety of our associates is a high priority, AAA implemented a policy which states that, anyone that has worked overnight must go home to rest for at least an 8-hour period before returning to work. This creates a daily night service rotation as compared to weekly.

Andrew White, director of human resources, Almcoe Refrigeration Services, Dallas, TX (2009 Contracting Business.com Commercial Refrigeration Contractor of the Year):

  • Positive reinforcement and sympathy with technicians’ situations is essential.
  • Strive to ensure technicians get pre-scheduled vacation time off.
  • Provide an extra day off following a long workload.
  • Provide Gatorade during the hot months to make sure technicians are properly hydrated.
  • Communicate to make sure your technicians aren’t putting themselves at risk due to sleep deprivation.
  • Always find a way to show appreciation for their effort.
  • Listen to their frustrations. We have a chaplain who will engage the service technicians in conversations.
  • Always seek to improve your methods; perform post-season survey’s to improve the quality of the service department year after year. Efficient methods are much less stressful than seat-of-the-pants methods.
  • Design your duty roster to spread the workload around.
  • Have off-duty technicians call in on peak summer weekends, to assist with the on-call guys.
  • Have installers assist with clearing calls to help with the workload.
  • Look at talent from season to season and staff accordingly.
  • Have managers help out with calls.
  • Avoid hiring whiners. Recruit people that understand how the industry works, and that overtime is required during the summer months.

Neil Lansing, president, Fournier Refrigeration, Jacksonville, FL. Lansing purchased the company in 2006. He recently served as a panelist in the 2011 Contracting Business.com/Supermarket News Refrigerant Roundtable (see http://bit.ly/cb2011roundtable):

My first suggestion is to limit the hours technicians work. If you’re working your techs more than 10 hours a day, you’re going to have technician burnout. If this happens consistently, hire additional technicians.

To reduce service calls and long hours, promote preventive maintenance contracts to your clients. PM contracts will reduce emergency service calls.

Focus on call severity levels. Run emergency calls on equipment that has higher product loss and customer slip-and-fall events. Work with your clients on self contained equipment that can be pushed a day.

Divide your service technicians between PM work and service calls. Work your technicians on PMs at 40 hours a week, while working your service call techs at 40+ per week. Alternate the groups every quarter.

Hire dedicated service technicians for after-hours calls. This will reduce the number of hours all technicians work.

INSTALLATION TIP

Internal or External Equalized TXV

Q: What is the difference between an “internally” equalized and “externally” equalized TXV?
A: An internally equalized TXV uses evaporator inlet pressure to create the “closing” force on the valve. An externally equalized valve uses the evaporator outlet pressure, thereby compensating for any pressure drop through the evaporator.

If an internally equalized valve is used in a system with a large pressure drop through the evaporator, the pressure below the diaphragm will be higher, causing the valve to go in a more “closed” position, and resulting in a superheat higher than desired (starving).

Q: When should I use an externally equalized TXV?
A: 1. On any large system, generally over one-ton capacity. 2. On any system using a distributor. Note: for field replacement, you can always replace an internally equalized valve with an externally equalized type. However, you should never replace an externally equalized valve with an internally equalized type.

Q: If I need to replace an internally equalized valve and all that’s available is an externally equalized type, can I simply “cap” the equalizer fitting?
A: No. The equalizer must be connected to the suction line near the thermal bulb. Capping the equalizer line will prevent the valve from operating properly.

Q: Will an externally equalized TXV allow system pressure to “equalize” during off cycles?
A: No. An externally equalized valve will NOT allow system high and low sides to “equalize” during the off cycle. The only way this can be accomplished is through the use of a “bleed” type TXV.

Q: Where should the external equalizer be installed?
A: The external equalizer line should be installed on top of the suction line, before any traps, and located within 6-in. of the sensing bulb position. If this isn’t possible, and a different location is required, it must first be confirmed that the pressure at the desired location is identical to the pressure at the bulb.

Copyright 2005 Emerson Climate Technologies, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.