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Selecting and Training Operators

Operators are often selected based on years of experience and are rarely tested for managing large amounts of data and hundreds of unique scenarios. Rarely do they receive formal process condition training using a formalized classroom instruction course with professionally prepared training manuals and tests. Most companies rely on experience and move people from one job position into another without considering personality, attention to detail, or assessing if they really want the new position. They may be motivated by a pay increase and are not completely plugged in and ready to meet the expectations or requirements of the position. Most companies use “on the job training” and feel the old way of doing things is good enough. This has proven to be an issue.

Operator selection should be based on a series of tests and operator training should be formalized, with materials, instructor training guides, with a focus on “the events that rarely happen but could happen”. Do not assume an amazing field operator with 25 years of experience will make a great board operator. In most cases, great field operators need to stay in the field! Board operators have unique skill sets that allow them to remain vigilant and predictive when things are very quiet and boring, they have the ability to look for and find issues instead of reacting. When we think all is good and our guard is down, we unplug, and that is when a set of events ignite the perfect fire storm. BP Texas City, Deep Water Horizon, Tree mile Island…Chernobyl.

You must match the worst part of the job with the best talent and have a training program that would make a Nuc submarine captain proud. All employees, especially control room operators, maintenance and contractor employees, involved with highly hazardous chemicals need to fully understand the safety and health hazards of the chemicals and processes they work with for the protection of themselves, their fellow employees and the citizens of nearby communities. Training conducted in compliance with 1910.1200, the Hazard Communication standard, will help employees to be more knowledgeable about the chemicals they work with as well as familiarize them with reading and understanding SDSs.

However, additional training in subjects such as operating procedures and safety work practices, emergency evacuation and response, safety procedures, routine and nonroutine work authorization activities, and other areas pertinent to process safety and health will need to be covered by an employer’s training program.

In establishing their training programs, employers must clearly define the employees to be trained and what subjects are to be covered in their training. Employers in setting up their training program will need to clearly establish the goals and objectives they wish to achieve with the training that they provide to their employees. The learning goals or objectives should be written in clear measurable terms before the training begins. These goals and objectives need to be tailored to each of the specific training modules or segments. Employers should describe the important actions and conditions under which the employee will demonstrate competence or knowledge as well as what is acceptable performance.

Hands-on-training where employees are able to use their senses beyond listening, will enhance learning. For example, operating personnel, who will work in a control room or at control panels, would benefit by being trained at a simulated control panel or panels. Upset conditions of various types could be displayed on the simulator, and then the employee could go through the proper operating procedures to bring the simulator panel back to the normal operating parameters. A training environment could be created to help the trainee feel the full reality of the situation but, of course, under controlled conditions. This realistic type of training can be very effective in teaching employees correct procedures while allowing them to also see the consequences of what might happens if they do not follow established operating procedures. Other training techniques using videos or on-the-job training can also be very effective for teaching other job tasks, duties, or other important information. An effective training program will allow the employee to fully participate in the training process and to practice their skill or knowledge.

Employers need to periodically evaluate their training programs to see if the necessary skills, knowledge, and routines are being properly understood and implemented by their trained employees. The means or methods for evaluating the training should be developed along with the training program goals and objectives. Training program evaluation will help employers to determine the amount of training their employees understood, and whether the desired results were obtained. If, after the evaluation, it appears that the trained employees are not at the level of knowledge and skill that was expected, the employer will need to revise the training program, provide retraining, or provide more frequent refresher training sessions until the deficiency is resolved. Those who conducted the training and those who received the training should also be consulted as to how best to improve the training process. If there is a language barrier, the language known to the trainees should be used to reinforce the training messages and information.

Careful consideration must be given to assure that employees including maintenance and contract employees receive current and updated training. For example, if changes are made to a process, impacted employees must be trained in the changes and understand the effects of the changes on their job tasks (e.g., any new operating procedures pertinent to their tasks). Additionally, as already discussed the evaluation of the employee’s absorption of training will certainly influence the need for refresher or additional training.

The key is to select the right people for the job and set them up for success by eliminating human error traps like poor situation awareness and not planning for the storm that is already picking up speed.