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A general trend in the petrochemical industry is to move away from dual role inside/outside operators and toward dedicated control operators interacting with dedicated outside operators. As this trend occurs, the operators find themselves having to interact and communicate more and function as team members to control the processes. Unfortunately, many operators have inadequate communication and team skills, and problems result. According to a recent study of the 100 largest losses over the last 30 years in the petrochemical industry, 26 of the incidents were directly attributable to operational error. Operational error also played a contributing role in the other incidents. As the petrochemical industry moves towards dedicated control operators, operational errors are likely to increase because many operators lack team skills.

The aeronautical community faced a similar situation in the early eighties. The causes of the mishaps were increasingly being blamed on operational errors, and in particular, poor crew interaction. For example, in 1988, air crew error mishaps accounted for 63% of all mishaps in the Navy/Marineís rotary wing aviation ("Aircrew coordination training program," Robert Alkov, CSERIAC Gateway, Volume 2: Number 4, Fall 1991). The major airlines reported having similar air crew error experiences.

To address the problem, the aerospace community began a collective effort to improve cockpit crew problem solving and communications. What emerged from the effort is known as Crew Resource Management (CRM). CRM concerns all aspects of crew interaction. CRM has been defined as the effective utilization of all available resources - hardware, software, and liveware - to achieve safe, efficient operations. Some elements included in CRM courses are: communication, leadership, delegation of responsibilities, establishment of priorities, monitoring and cross checking, use of information, and problem assessment and resolution. CRM training courses were developed that would teach the crew members the essential elements of team skills. CRM courses differ from traditional communication courses in an important respect, which is that CRM courses include problem solving as part of the curriculum.

CRM has paid off in the aviation industry. Within two years of receiving CRM training the Navy/Marineís rotary wing aircraft air crew error rate was reduced to less than half of pre-CRM levels. Others in the aerospace community have reported similar results. Currently the FAA is mandating that all commercial airline pilots receive regular CRM training as part of the continuing education.

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Article Published By
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DCS Console Operator Issues in Related Industries 2011 TAPPI PEERS Conference
How Good is Your Operator's Mental Model? Mynah
How to Build a Better Operator - ABB Automation & Power World Control


This year's Fall meeting for the Center for Operator Performance will be October 7-10 in Houston, TX. For more information, please contact Lisa Via. Guests are always welcome!


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David Strobhar's book, "Human Factors in Process Plant Operation," is now available in both hardcover and Kindle e-book.

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