Effective Shift Handover Is No Accident

A successful handover between shifts heavily depends on the organizational skills of management and the effective use of the communication tools available. Learn what these tools are and get the most out of your operators.

By Ian Nimmo, User Centered Design Services, LLC

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On numerous occasions, poor handovers between shifts have been responsible for accidents. A prominent example is the Texas City fire involving BP’s isomerization column on March 24, 2005. The nightshift filled the column. The dayshift continued to fill the column; it flooded, and eventually led to an accident killing 15 people.

A successful handover between shifts heavily depends on the organizational skills of management and the effective use of the communication tools available. These tools are:

  1. the shift log book;
  2. the shift handover meeting;
  3. and the shift team meeting.

The shift logbook

Electronic log books that have a predefined plan for data collection seem to work best. They are a nexus, defining the status of the operation, available for all within the organization. Some may be automated and others may be the gathering of an operator’s investigations or calculations.

Additional information may be harvested from laboratory results, managers, engineers, supervisors, field operators, maintenance personnel, maintenance or business planners, and schedulers. In its best form, the pre-defined sheet of the log book ensures consistent data collected at defined, scheduled times. In its worst form, the “log book” is a collection of disparate data maintained by a manager, or managers — not shared up, and down, the chain of command within the organization.
 Managers shouldn’t assume that operators are competent writers. Nor should they assume that operators will produce clear descriptions of events. Operators are not hired for their communication skills. We’ve found that many plants managers do not evaluate candidates for these skills. However, companies are beginning to see the value of communications skills for their operators. Recently, many companies have started testing new recruits for their writing abilities. They are beginning to test existing operators. Much to their chagrin, these managers discovered that some operators have reading and writing skills below those expected for high school graduates. Remedial training can save these operators and make them more useful to their companies.

So, how can companies transform their operations and maintenance from reactive to predictive if their operators can’t read and write? This will be one of the challenges they must grapple with as they begin to build the multiple variant statistical models needed to predict plant conditions. The future of proactive operability depends on operators who can effectively document process events and investigate their causes.

Besides content, there is also context — what data should be included in daily reporting? Ideally, clear boundary lines should be drawn between different units within a plant containing several product lines. However, a periodic review should be conducted to assure that no one will be blindsided by an unexpected problem.  Obviously, it will sometimes be necessary to report the same measurement in two log books. Whenever possible, avoid sharing of information between remotely separated units — the log book should include values for measurements the unit has control over.

Shift handover meeting

The handover should be formal and consistent; it should be held at specific times. Most of all, it must be valued by those in attendance, not considered a waste of time or a ritual. The interview should be a brief exchange of information encompassing not just immediate problems but identifying threats to production and quality. Side issues such as potential environmental excursions and safety issues should be included, or may be handled in separate meetings. The best handovers follow an established format. Issues are reported in order of importance: safety, environment, quality, production, reliability (Figure 1). Meetings should be as short as possible or they develop a life of their own: attendees devote their time to preparing for the meeting instead of solving problems. Sidebar meetings should be organized for items requiring a more detailed discussion. And, most importantly: the final minutes must be collated and distributed to attendees.

Figure 1

These minutes can be used for identification of potential opportunities, including: increases in production or quality, maintenance possibilities, control system continuous improvements, better control optimization, alarm rationalization, instrumentation fault correction, and development of key performance indicators (KPIs). This work generally occurs further up the chain.

Shift team meeting

This meeting usually takes longer that the handover meeting and requires participation at the tactical and strategic level. It should take place early in the shift. The purpose of the shift team meeting is sharing information between line supervisors, upper managers and staff functions. Sometimes, operators or technicians are included for discussing particular problems. Sometimes, consultants, sales, public relations, or other corporate staff should take part. If the people are located in separate buildings, or travel time is too great for a single meeting, consider networked electronic white boards to allow sharing information and video conferencing. The meeting will have to be adapted for days with managers and engineers and nights for just supervisors.

The meeting should begin with a review of the previous shift for each product, or department. This is the tactical section of the meeting. It is best to follow the same outline for each meeting. Begin this segment with a summary of each product or department, with topics in order of importance: safety, environment, quality, production, and reliability. Unlike the handover meeting, the shift meeting should address more details of a strategic nature.

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