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"Operators are like firemen: you would rather see them sitting than running around."

NEWSLETTER ARTICLE

This is an analogy I have heard several times in relation to operator staffing. Operators chafe at managers concluding that they have too many operators when they see operators sit in the control room. While seeing the operators sit in the control room is not a valid metric of staffing, the fireman example is, at best, spurious.

The problem with the fireman analogy is that, while it may apply to detection of understaffing, it validates all levels of overstaffing. If two operators have extra time on their hands and meet the fireman criteria, four operators for the same unit would have even more time. Is the unit operating better because I now have more operators with little to do?

The typical arguments miss the point - staffing is about return on investment, not about idleness. An operating position costs a plant an estimated $250,000/year. The key question in staffing is value added for the expenditure. One plant had higher than average staffing levels, in large part due to a requirement to have operators perform a round every two hours. Concurrent with the increase in round time was a reduction in incidents at the refinery. The extra operators paid for themselves, not because of their mere presence, but because of the tasks being performed while they were present. (By the way, these operators didnít sit around in the control room for long).

I wouldnít vote for a tax levy to add firemen so more firemen can sit around more often. I would vote for a tax levy to add firemen if they added value to my community.

Copyright © 1999 Beville Engineering, Inc.

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