To Err is Human, to Have the Safest Operators is Divine – OTS

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“Human error” is a key contributor to incidents and accidents in plants. While different analyses report differing percentages where “abnormal situations” are attributable to “human error”, the numbers are remarkably consistent. For example, a 2010 ARC Advisory Group publication reported that 42% of unscheduled plant shutdowns result from operator error, and a United States Health and Safety Executive report showed 26% of accidents attributable to operational error. If you ask me, these numbers are too high for comfort.

“Human error” is frequently used to point out that somebody made a mistake and sometimes the consequences impact revenue and profit.  And sometimes, it even costs lives.   As I stated in my previous blog – operations staff directly impact safety, profitability and plant availability. While “human error” is an identified cause of loss, the statistics do not provide a solution to the problem.  So, we need to continue to ask ourselves,”how can we, as industry stakeholders, help reduce the causes of these accidents or losses?”

In his 2014 paper – Improving Plant Safety – An Operator-Centric View on Process Safety – Gregor Fernholz analyzed the impact of operator error on plant safety and identified three critical areas that need to be addressed to increase plant safety:

  1. Operator Training
  2. Validating and Improving Procedures and Rules
  3. Improving communication skills and critical situation readiness.

There are numerous ways to provide training to operators and a holistic training approach encompasses classroom training, training on the job and various other means. However, state-of-the-art training (with a clear focus on enhancing plant safety through an operator-centric approach) will include an Operator Training Simulator as a key element.

Operator Training Simulators are a safe and cost effective way to minimize risk and plant downtime.

An Operator Training Simulator accelerates both the time to competence and raises the competency level of an operator. The ARC Advisory Group recently surveyed companies who have invested in Operator Training Simulators (OTS). Two critical results from the survey:

  • Over 65% of those companies report fewer abnormal situations, fewer trips, and incidence avoidance as a key benefit resulting from the use of OTS.
  • Over 60% of these companies report improved safety and reduced risk and lower liability as an additional benefit resulting from the use of OTS.

Another industry survey of purchasers of Operator Training Simulators reports similar findings. In that report instructors, managers and engineers claimed the most important benefits are:

  • Faster production start-up
  • Reduced operational risk and enhanced facility integrity
  • High production performance.

Operators surveyed reported the top three benefits to be:

  • Improved process understanding increasing confidence of operating the process safely
  • Improved ability to handle process upsets
  • Increased confidence in being able to execute day to day operations

Perhaps it’s not too surprising that management focuses on the more easily quantifiable benefits but it’s good to see that safety is front and foremost on the minds of the actual operators.

The buyers of Operator Training Simulators (OTSs) are interested in the safe and incident free operation of multi-billion dollar assets, so it’s a good thing that an OTS provides benefits that far outweigh the cost.  But, don’t just take my word for it…

Success Says It All

The Fauji Fertilizer Company purchased an OTS from Schneider Electric. The company was kind enough to share the results of the project:

  • Within the first year, 22 FFC engineers have become OTS instructors and they have conducted 130 training sessions for nearly 100 management and staff operators.
  • Plant operators have benefited from best-in class training and were empowered to respond confidently and consistently in real time
  • With the Operator Training Simulator the company reported that training time had decreased from years to months
  • Unscheduled shutdowns were significantly reduced, that plant startup and shutdown was more efficient and emergencies had been handled smoothly

You may be interested in reading the complete success story to learn more about Fauji’s challenges and results.

Lifecycle Managementse-simsci_workop_greatcrewchange_300x250_final

Early planning in a project lifecycle is now yielding outstanding benefits. Savings can be realized early on in the design phase by capital and operating cost optimization (see Blog #1). Further dramatic savings were realized by shortening the commissioning time (see Blog #2). The plant is now up and running and being operated by highly skilled and competent operators who will make fewer errors, thereby increasing plant up-time and plant safety. The journey still isn’t over. Please read the next blog in the series to learn about the additional benefits that can be realized by integrating an Operator Training Simulator with a 3D virtual Reality Immersive Training Simulator to provide entire Plant Crew Training.

To learn more about Workforce Enablement through Operator Training Simulators, download one of our industry-specific whitepapers.




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