What does competency assurance feel like?

With 30 years in petroleum refining operations and several years as a Console Operator Training Advisor George Dzyacky had many opportunities to speak on the importance of improving the training and performance of console operators in the petroleum refining industry. On one occasion I addressed a group of Operations Managers on the importance of achieving uniform, console operator competency assurance across North America.

Choosing an airline Most of the Operation Managers had flown in from various parts of the world and so I asked them to think back a few weeks to when they were making their travel plans to attend the conference. I asked them if, while making their travel plans, they based their choice of airlines on the competencies of the pilots. How important was pilot training in choosing an airline? Of course these questions didn’t enter into any part of their decision, or mine. And the reason it does not, is because the public assumes a high degree of competency among pilots within any given company and across companies within the airline industry. The flying public has acquired an innate assurance that all is well on the flight deck. It is not necessary to factor-in pilot competency into the decision and so we are free to move on to the next matter at hand like price or schedule.

Starting-up the unit I then asked these managers to think back a little longer this time to when they were a process engineer or an operations superintendent on a unit that was coming out of a turn-around. At some point near the end of the multi-day start up procedure, after all the vessels were purged of air and equipment brought up to temperature, they approached the critical phase of introducing oil feed for the first time. I then put another question to them. “When you jumped a few pages ahead in the procedure and recognized that you would be introducing feed sometime late in tomorrow’s day shift, did you turn to your shift supervisor and ask, who’s going to be on the board tomorrow?” Everyone chuckled. They were all familiar with the question. They had asked it dozens of times. I knew they had, because I had been the supervisor to whom that question was always put. I had asked it hundreds of times myself.

Scheduling extra help What comes next is a quick check of the operator’s work schedule. If the person scheduled for tomorrow’s day shift is someone who the supervisors trust, it is not necessary to process it any further and those working the unit startup are free to move on to the next matter at hand. Although, if the person on tomorrow’s schedule doesn’t have a very good track record of managing even normal day-to-day operations the supervisors wouldn’t trust the person with the responsibilities of a critical step in the procedure and would schedule an extra person on the console to “help” with the startup. Why?

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Author George Dzyacky is Director of Training Services for RSI Simcon. Before joining RSI in 2009 George retired from BP after 30 in refinery operations. George often says he spent the first 20 years IN operations and the last 10 TRAINING operators in one form or another.

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