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Navigating Control Building Policies and Procedures Post COVID-19

As the world adapts to a new norm resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, many Process Control operations have been developing work policies to further mitigate the spread and outbreak of the virus. While 24/7 command and control environments contain similar working routines as compared to typical office environments, Control Buildings require many strategies that go above and beyond standard practice.

Should the console layout in the Control Room be reconfigured? This is not a simple solution depending on cable routing, lighting AC vents, etc. If it does require change an Ergonomic Assessment should be carried out. With recommendations being phased in as project resources become available.

What happens during an upset or abnormal situation? Large groups of Managers and Engineers should not flood the control room. A supervisor should coordinate who has access to the control room.

How do you conduct operator training? Operator training is currently done at the console reducing safe space between people. Alternative safe zones should be assessed, determine when operators will be required to wear masks, and be asked to regularly wash hands and keep work surfaces clean. Operators should use dedicated keyboards and mouse, and these should not be shared between shifts.

How should permitting be performed? Permitting should never be done in the control room. Contractors and Maintenance should have no access to the control room. There are alternatives, better practices, that eliminate distractions caused by open access to the control room.

How should shift handover be conducted? One on one face-to-face communication is required and should be conducted with masks on and work surfaces cleaned before and after the handover.

The importance of company policies, technology, and the people involved are more important than ever. However, policies are only effective if the people behave in a way in which they were intended. Conduct of Operations and Operational Disciple programs are developed by High Reliability Organizations with one goal, to achieve Operational Excellence. This is developed from the top down and enforced and adopted over time, which changes the culture and moral of the workforce. The people come first, and they can see that.

In preparation for future pandemics, we must be extremely careful to ensure that changes do not impact situation awareness, disrupt communications, or add additional workload to the operators. This can be tricky, however, as control rooms can be designed to improve situation awareness, they can also prevent the spread of viruses.

1. List of normal office practices that should also be carried out in Control Buildings:
a. Temperature taking prior to plant entry and at each control room shift handover.
b. Survey questions regarding health and travel by current employees
returning from time off and for non-employees, completed and signed
before entry at the main plant gate.
c. Masks should be worn during shift handover and during outside face-to-face contact with other individuals (e.g. permitting, vendors, etc.).
d. Cleaning of surfaces (establish shift-handover cleaning check lists of
keyboards, mice, etc.). Additional consideration of personal keyboards
and mice should be reviewed.
e. A good hygienic solution for keyboards is provided by WEYTEC:

WEYTEC keyboards also eliminate the need for multiple keyboards

f. Discouraging physical contact such as handshaking, etc.
g. Encourage proper hygiene, washing hands regularly, hand sanitizer,
disinfecting wipes for cleaning surfaces and chairs, etc. Most control
buildings have great messages regarding job safety and responsibilities. Displaying messages regarding proper hygiene should be considered as well.
h. Identify high traffic areas such as restrooms & break rooms and make a plan to mitigate risk in those areas with additional disinfecting and cleaning protocols. Shared food, dishes, cutlery, fridges, etc. In break areas should be halted during a pandemic.

2. Control Room Layout – Typically, Control Rooms today have layouts that already incorporate distancing between operators, mainly due to the size of operator consoles and the quantity of screens. For example, an operator console with five 27” monitors results in a separation of approximately 12’-0” to 13’-0” of physical space between operators. The International standard requires a minimum of 10 feet:

In most cases, rearranging of operator consoles due to COVID19 is not warranted. If operators are less than 6’-0” apart, reconfiguration of consoles
should be considered but should not be performed without an adjacency

3. Upsets and Abnormal Situations – In many cases, during specific modes of operation or reaction to an upset, 2 or more people may join the operator at the console. Quick and convenient access to masks at the operator console should be implemented and required when more than one operator is seated at the console. Quite often these upsets trigger additional persons to convene in the Control Room. While many are essential to the situation, there is a better location for these extra people. Configure the space such that an adjacent conference room or war room has a direct view into the Control Room. This allows the operators to detect, diagnose, and respond to the situation without the added distractions and increased potential exposure to the virus. Please take recommendations provided by CDC and local government directions, for example some States have a compulsory requirement to wear masks while at work.

4. Training – Operator training has varied from sharing tribal knowledge (side-by-side at the console) to the usage of simulators. Firsthand training at the operator console can still be considered. Proper hygiene and face masks should be worn if this is the only option. Classroom environment training with proper distancing is always a good solution and typical precautions should be implemented. Simulators have come a long way and are becoming more and more successful. The good thing about simulators is that they can be located anywhere.

5. Permitting – Many sites conduct the permitting process with outside contractors visiting the operators in the control room. This causes unwanted distraction increases the risk of spreading the virus and could compromise situation awareness for the operators. Regardless of the threat of a pandemic, or normal operations, we recommend Safe Work permits be issued by the Outside Operators in the field. Other permits such as Hot Work, Confined Spaces, etc. should be issued by a Supervisor in the field. Control Operators should be kept in the loop of all issued permits. Technology has evolved and communications between the operator and field has become more commonplace, thus improving communications while eliminating the threat of spreading the virus.

6. Control Room Housekeeping – In general, house cleaning, office cleaning, and control room cleaning has evolved due to the recent pandemic. New products are being used to disinfect, kill bacteria, and a little more elbow grease is being applied to get the job done. It is recommended that you evaluate your current control room housekeeping practice and if needed, add additional duties such as wiping down keyboards, mice, monitors, chairs, and desk surfaces with bacteria
killing products. Also, the frequency of scheduled cleanings may need to be
increased and even may need to be conducted before each shift. Air filters
should be changed at the prescribed date and with good quality filters not the cheapest available.

In conclusion, many typical office practices for the prevention of spreading the disease can be carried over into the Control Building environment. However, additional considerations and safety measures should be considered due to the mission critical operations performed in the Command and Control industry. Without operators, we are flying blind. Without good situation awareness, we are flying with one eye open.

Take precautions, invest in your operators, be safe, look out for each other, and always find opportunities to improve.
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