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Operator Training

Quote: “People should not be trained until they get it right; they need to be trained until they do not get it wrong”.

In the industrial workplace, few people begin a job fully trained. Even when people have prior work experience, they will still need to learn the many nuances of the new work environment that impact one’s ability to perform effectively. Furthermore, with the current high rate of change in organization and technology, nearly everyone needs to acquire new competencies to meet the demands of the work environment. As a consequence, all organizations have to educate and train staff to raise their level of performance. This may be achieved by providing new and relevant knowledge and information, by providing hands on experiences, or by cultivating specific attitudes, values and motives.

The human performance demands in the industrial process control environment challenge current training strategies and methods. A new paradigm is needed that closely couples training and job activities situated in the everyday work environment The purpose of training is to develop task appropriate competencies in form of specific knowledge and skills. Most importantly, when people are interacting with large complex systems like those in the process control industry, the system’s structure and behaviors change continuously for a variety of reasons. Consequently, it is important that the competencies of the work force keep a breast of the changing demands of this complex work environment.

For example, the production operator is the employee who uses process safety information, safe work practices, and operating procedures to operate and maintain process plant equipment. Today’s production operator must be competent in more than the technical aspects of operating and maintaining plant equipment, machinery and controls.

A good training program differentiates the way in which people work but should provide a standardization of approach. Good training can and should:
• be a focus for aligning the workforce with the company strategy
• ensure that workforce skill levels are up to national or industry standards
• be a powerful individual motivator
• be a good catalyst for change
• be an arena for providing a link between the individual and the company values

Our assessment of current training practices concludes that many of today’s industrial training programs fall short of these qualities of a good training program. Quite by accident, the most influential training is on-the-job training, sporadic, informal and unmeasured as it tends to be. The interactions between people, plant equipment, processes and organizational entities that occur within the everyday work environment have a stronger impact on an operations team performance than any existing training program. The work environment is the primary learning environment. Unfortunately, plant personnel typically do not perceive the work environment as the primary learning environment.

As a new strategy for training, we propose that plant personnel design the work environment to be a continuous learning environment. Following a brief summary of current training practices, we present key dimensions for continuous learning in terms of culture, organization, and workspace design. Explicit design of the work environment along desirable areas of these dimensions will lead to greater job satisfaction, increased plant reliability, better operational integrity and most importantly, and improved plant profits.

It is important that an organization have a structured curriculum that the new employee and the seasoned employee can measure their progress and achievements. Most companies are challenged to deliver this function as they no longer have dedicated trainers concentrating on this topic. Before the development of a curriculum a company needs to complete a needs assessment which will include competency evaluation. This task can be done with the aid of training consultants who themselves are competent in the best practices in this area. Good consultants are familiar with industrial training initiatives such as the new recruiting philosophy being adopted whereby a company will only employ operators who have completed an industrial foundation training diploma or two year associate degree offered by a local community training college. This means that
the company will need to be in partnership with the community colleges to ensure that their needs are being addressed in the foundation training.

More than 58% of refineries, 57% of petrochemicals, and 36% of chemicals companies do some form of benchmarking of their operator training practices. Benchmarking is a comparative analysis of what others are doing in production operator training. It allows companies to find the best practices throughout their industry. to help them improve their own practices.

Organizational culture consists of the set of values and beliefs that either explicitly or implicitly determine the acceptable behaviors of a group of people. These values are frequently passed on to new members through war stories, rules and actions of veteran members of the group. Organizational cultures exist at many levels within an enterprise. For example, cultures exist at the level of a refinery with subcultures at level of operations teams within a specific process unit of a refinery. The operations team cultures are the most influential in teaching new employees the acceptable operational behaviors for a particular process unit. To the extent that a site management team treats all operations teams the same, there will be some common cultural themes across the operations teams within a site.

There are a number of ways to develop a culture. From the perspective of establishing a continuous learning organization, it is important to identify the important norms and desired behaviors. In this section, we discuss three types of behaviors that determine the kind of continuous learning culture that exists in the operations work environment. These three types are not intended to be a comprehensive set of cultural factors rather they represent key examples pertinent to the petrochemical plant environment. Once all levels of the organization have agreed on the desired behaviors, the organizational structures and processes need to be established to develop and reinforce the culture. Moreover, the kind of continuous learning culture that exists has a significant impact of the operational effectiveness of the group.

Oil and gas organizations desire to create and maintain skills and understanding in all site personnel through familiarization and repeated practice. Human error is widely recognized as the No. 1 cause of safety incidents, and so, while the enhanced skills gained through repeated practice could aid productivity, they could also serve to eradicate human error from operations.

Many of the recent investigations into incidents have highlighted a level of commonality as to probable causes. These include:

· Limited awareness of operating procedures
· Improper identification of safety hazards and hazardous processes
· Inadequate inspection
· Inadequately trained workers

Regulations around the globe are demanding best in class training programs: the forthcoming ISO 55000 regulations will enumerate that safety training is a central recognized and generally accepted good engineering practice (RAGAGEP) pillar for operational readiness. Meanwhile, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), via its regulation OSHA 1910.119(g)(1) indicates that topics covered by training should, at a minimum, include the following:

· Lock-out/tag-out
· Hot work
· Line and equipment opening
· Confined space entry
· Emergency response
· Operating procedures

One of the problems that caused the BP Texas City refinery explosion was that operators relied on knowledge of past startup experiences (passed down by the more skilled veteran operators) and developed informal work practices.

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