Letter to the Editor Re "Operators get More Help"
Below is a thoughtful letter to the editor that raises many good points regarding training -- or a lack of it. I apologize for not posting this letter sooner.
Here is the letter in its entirety:
May 20, 2009
Editor in Chief
Chemical Processing Magazine
I read with keen interest your article Operators get [More] Help and would like to share with you my thoughts on the subject of Operator Training.
In terms of my background, I have spent my entire career in the field of Operator Training Simulators (OTS), starting with panelboard simulators in 1974. My company’s latest innovation is a fully functioning, 3D virtual reality based Outside Operator Station that is integrated into our existing OTS. We call our product Virtual Refinery and more detailed information can be found on our website, www.virtualrefinery.com. Current users include refineries, chemical plants, 2 and 4 year colleges, and power plants.
It is a sad commentary on our industry when 4+ years after the BP Texas City accident, the top item in your survey, What factor most impedes operators' performance at your site?, is lack of ongoing training. I was wondering if a follow up article as to why companies are not providing this training would be appropriate and here are my observations on this subject.
US Chemical Safety Board
Carolyn Merritt, while she was Chair and CEO of the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board gave a presentation on October 5, 2006 To The Center for the Advancement of Process Technology entitled, Managing Risk:Are You Missing The 800 Pound Gorilla?
In her presentation, she made the strong case against complacency and advised that prior to the explosion, BP had the lowest LTIR (Lost Time Injury Rate) in the Petroleum industry and that “low OSHA accident rates and catastrophic risk potential may not equate!”
This same presentation highlighted the training gaps revealed by the CSB’s investigations:
Marsh & McLennan
The role of Operator error in large plant accidents as well as a call to arms re the lack of training in the Petroleum industry is not new. Marsh & McLennan in their 100 Large Losses, A Thirty-year Review of Property Losses in the Hydrocarbon-Chemical Industries for more than 20 years has identified Operator Error as one of the largest causes of loss and in their Nineteenth Edition – February 2001, list numerous references to training in their Lessons Learned section:
- Institute a rigorous change management program and properly train employees on changes in operating procedures
Provide regular training for all employees, including standardized re-certification training for all operators
Provide a well-trained emergency response organization that can include employees and/or mutual aid agreements
This write up concludes with this statement:
“These lessons learned, more than once in many cases, suggest the necessity for a strong safety commitment from senior management as well as local plant management and the need to employ the best available technology to mitigate risk.”
In 1989, Jim Makris, Emergency Response Coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency (whose work at the time included the Exxon Valdez oil spill), was a luncheon speaker at our company’s User's Conference held in Washington, DC.
Jim told our group that he would much rather being discussing issues regarding safety and training "in the Board Room, or even the Bar Room" as opposed to the "Court Room or the Emergency Room". He then cautioned our group that where these discussions took place depended on how well the plants handled these critical issues. Unfortunately as we know, shortly afterwards there were a host of large plant accidents resulting in much loss of life and destruction of property.
I transposed Jim’s comments onto a roulette wheel and have included this slide in our presentations:
What is preventing the oil companies from providing their operators with the training that is required and being asked for?
Lack of financial resources? – it is hard to make this case even in today’s economic situation. Also, a strong case can be made that well trained operators save money far in excess of the cost of their training via safer running plants, less accidents, fewer environmental releases, higher quality products, etc.
Lack of knowledge of the problem? – doubtful, especially given all of the publicity surrounding the BP accident , reports by Marsh & McLennan, AIChE’s Center for Chemical Process Safety, Texas A&M’s Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, the US Chemical Safety Board, the Abnormal Situation Management Consortium, the Center for Operator Performance, etc.
Lack of concern for human life and the environment? – undeserved condemnation of top management + hard to believe that BP’s accident in Texas City cost BP over $2 billion in claims to victims and over $180 million in environmental fines has gone unnoticed by others
Lack of interest in maintaining plant equipment and profitability? – improbable given BP’s $1 billion costs in repairs and lost profits
Lack of qualified training officers and managers? – needs to be explored and examined. Given the lack of emphasis on human factors and training in traditional engineering education, this could indeed be a factor.
I look forward to your review of these thoughts and to discussing these issues with you in more detail.
Donald C. Glaser
Simulation Solutions, Inc.