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How Many Operators Do You Need?

To assess the ability to reduce or increase staffing levels, the facility must take an honest look at the quality of the workforce.

How are console operators chosen? The move to a dedicated console-operator post should be treated as an upgrade in duties and pay. The selection should not be based on seniority, but on testing and competency models to ensure the best person is selected. A rigorous screening process should select the best available, rather than throwing a few API tests at the candidates.

A formal training process should concentrate on all pertinent aspects of the position. It is not sufficient to have six weeks of new-hire training followed by on-the-job training. A separate formal training program should exist for the console job.

Workload is effected by:
Procedures available to the operators based on all possible situations
Management Of Change
Teamwork, Roles and Responsibilities
Willingness To Act
Alertness and Fatigue
Situation Awareness

A good set of operating procedures can be an invaluable tool, but only if the procedures are correct, up-to-date, easily accessible and actually used. Procedures should be available that cover all pertinent situations, such as normal operations, abnormal conditions and emergency situations. They have to be written with the correct level of detail and in the correct format so they are useful to new operators, as well as experienced operators. Each operator’s roles and responsibilities need to be clarified before implementing the procedure. Having console operators in a remote location often removes them from this planning phase and requires procedures with checklist.

Management Of Change (MOC)
When done properly, the MOC policy is a powerful tool to communicate critical information to the operators. There must be a mechanism in place to keep all operators informed of changes in the plant in a timely fashion, especially personnel at remote work stations. The MOC system should scrutinize changes to ensure they are well thought out and implemented. The system should be fully utilized in the field and periodically audited to ensure compliance. The system must he applied to control systems and organizational changes as well as mechanical changes.

Teamwork, Roles and Responsibilities
The organization must be structured and implemented to fully support the operator during normal and abnormal situations. It must also be capable of continuing to support the operators when they take on additional responsibilities. It is important that everyone knows his or her role in the organization. Good, reliable communication systems must be in place. Key support personnel must be available when needed. All of these issues must be reviewed before staffing changes can commence.

Willingness To Act:
This area is vitally important to the success of the console operator. Is there an environment of support and empowerment in place so the operator feels free to act? Does the operator have to clear every move through a foreman to avoid being reprimanded? Management must routinely stress the importance of safety before production. Management must reward operators for taking the initiative to act in an emergency. If the plant culture is one that fosters hiding mistakes due to fear of reprisal and stresses production at all costs, the console operators will not be able to achieve the level of performance required to reach Best in Class staffing levels.

Alertness and Fatigue:
A console operator at a modern plant is expected to be awake, alert and ready to take decisive action at a moment’s notice. However, we frequently provide working conditions that actively work against this goal, for example:
• Are light levels kept low? This is often done to combat glare on the DCS screens, which is caused by poorly designed lighting systems, or to reduce the eye strain caused by black DCS-screen backgrounds.
• Is the ventilation poor, causing extreme changes in temperature? Are the air vents filthy and is the air quality poor?
• Do schedules allow, or even require, operators to work excessive overtime and consecutive days so that they can’t get adequate rest?

All these issues create, at best, an uncomfortable environment and, at worst, one that causes the operators to be drowsy and inattentive.
We also recommend conformance to the new API RP 755 document dealing with shift patterns, maximum work hours and time off required before returning to work.

Situation Awareness
The Human Interface Design (HMI) should be reviewed, some minor changes and enhancements need to be done as you move to a new platform. The big thing missing is the big picture a good overview display to allow operators to not get tunnel vision and allowing managers, supervisors and other operators to capture information without interrogating the console operator. The control rooms need to be stream lined to reduce traffic flow, maintenance permits should be done by field operators. Better use of CCTV cameras would be of benefit. A good shift handover is required by all operators and this needs to be described by management and enforced by supervision.