Thursday, October 02, 2014

Hiring for a safer plant and maintenance for increased profit

The August issue of Hydrocarbon Processing has some interesting articles about how to hire for a safer plant and how to use maintenance to increase profits.

Pier Parisi writes about maintenance of compressor control systems the article titled "Optimize control systems with preventive maintenance". His article contain to excellent examples on how lag of maintenance of compressor control system lead to reduced plant performance and increased maintenance. In the first example he describe how increased reaction time - just a few seconds - on the anti-surge control valve led to several unexpected plant shutdowns at gas production facility. The second example involved a suction throttling valve, which spend most of its time at the software low clamp. This clamp prevented the controller from closing the valve to the required 10-20% open. It turned out, that the software clamp was based on process conditions, that did no longer apply. In both examples the problems - unnecessary shutdowns or reduced plant throughput - could have been avoided with on-site control engineers to perform continuous maintenance of the control systems as process conditions change. The examples of the article focus on compressor control, but similar examples can be conceived for distillation or furnace control to mention some other areas, where conditions changes as time goes by.
The cost of the on-site control engineer can easily be recovered by improved plant performance. The industry leaders knew this in the early days of computer controlled plants, and continue the having control engineers, which are part of the operations team on site.

Dan Fearn and Mark Porter also focus on maintenance in their acticle titled "Optimize plant reliability with operator-based maintenance programs".  As far as I can tell from the article OPPM means, that operators perform many simpler maintenance task. A case history claims 30% reduction in maintenance labor cost. I wonder if this means the hour pay of operators are 30% less than the hourly pay of maintenance technicians. At least that was not the case in the plants I have worked in. In my view the focus of operators should be operating the facility in the most optimal way. If their attention is diverted from this task costly errors during simple maintenance work could be the result. I recall a recent CSB report about events at a DuPont site,where this was the case. So I clearly am quite sceptical about OPPM, and would rather see operator-initiated preventive maintenance. What is your experience on this?

I still wonder if we can show a correlation between maintenance cost and safety performance. Any data on this would be most welcome! We already know there is a correlation between maintenance cost and overall profitability.

The two articles discussed above indicate, that one way to safer plants is proper maintenance of the facilities, which the company operates. This avoids costly process safety events, such as unnecessary shutdowns. But are there other ways to safer plants? Yes,indeed!

One of the most underused is described by G. Ford in his article "Understanding people helps reduce safety risk in the workplace". Basically Mr. Ford describe the story of Charlie Morecraft, who in 1980 was employed by Exxon Corporation and how taking a short-cut nearly cost him his life. I was actually hired by Esso Chemical Canada around that time, and quickly got exposed to the attitude to safety. While on an interview trip I was allowed to visit a control room in the company of an employee, but after getting hired and starting work all plant visits of any kind was prohibited until I had completed the mandatory site safety training. The next training course was in 10 days time. That is a long time waiting if you are a new employee!

However, Mr. Ford go further by stating, that by asking the right questions during the interview process one can indeed hire the people with an attitude to safety in line with the company values. Already at Loss Prevention 2010 in Belgium a Canadian speaker revealed, that students applying for jobs with certain Canadian companies were screened during interviews based on their answers and attitude to safety related questions.

But even if you hire the best, then peoples attitude towards safety may change over the years due to personal experiences. Therefore attitude towards risk should be addressed individually, and not in one size fits all training sessions, as Mr. Ford points out in his article. Only then can you understand what a persons knee-jerk-reactions are, and then teach the person to manage his or her risk behavior. After all very few consciously and on purpose put themselves and others at risk.

I highly recommend, that anyone with any level of personnel responsibility in a process plant read and reflect on Mr. Fords article. It think it would be well worth your time!

Finally there is Marty Moran's article on operational excellence titled "How are leading organizations implementing operational excellence?", in which he hint that among leading organizations he counts Chevron, DuPont and ExxonMobil. First I would like to point out, that ExxonMobil only use 3 pages, and not 4 pages in their 2012 annual report on operational excellence.

ExxonMobil experienced, what I would call a wake-up event. It was when Exxon Valdez ran a ground at Alaska in 1989. Now more than 20 years later that event still cost the company money. But as the result of this wake-up event ExxonMobil 3 years later rolled out their Operations Integrity Management System on a world wide basis. In my view this changed how every ExxonMobil - and affiliated company - employees approached their work. As Mr. Moran points out OIMS at ExxonMobil helped every employee, team or site to focus on maximizing the value they contribute to the company all the way from the scientist asking was it the value and risk to our company of doing this or that experiment to the board members what are  the value and risk to our company of doing this or that investment.

So in my view OIMS goes beyond operational excellence to create a culture to aim for value and reduce risk. What is your view?