Most oil companies in the past few years have undertaken efforts to enhance operator performance. Many of these programs hope to create "good" or "super" operators through selection and training. Consistent with the general industry use of benchmarking, oil companies often look to the most profitable refineries to define the characteristics of what constitutes a good operator.
We at Beville often react when someone says they want to model themselves after the operators at a particular pace-setting facility with, "Youíve got to be kidding! Why would you want to be like them?" While many "pace setters" have good operators, the correlation between operator ability/performance and refinery profitability appears to us to be weak. Some of the best operators we have encountered are at refineries I would describe as a "dump". Some of the best refineries have "bozos" for operators. [Of course, some "dumps" have "bozos" for operators.] While good operators can enhance a refineryís performance and profitability, good maintenance, modern technology, and proper market placement likely overpower the impact of operator performance. Jeff Gordon in a Yugo is not going to win the Daytona 500.
Should refineries even try to enhance the caliber and capability of their operators? Yes, of course. Improving the quality of the operators should provide a good return on investment through better operation. Higher caliber operators will enable (1) greater spans of responsibilities, (2) more proactive refinery operation, (3) more self-reliance in operations, and (4) fewer disruptions/incidents as a result of process disturbances. Just donít assume that pace-setter refineries have the best operators nor that improving operator performance will by itself move a refinery from a fourth to first quartile performer. Enhancing operator performance optimizes within the other constraints of the man-machine system.
Copyright © 1999 Beville Engineering, Inc.
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This year's Fall meeting for the Center for Operator Performance will be October 24-26 in Corpus Christi. For more information, please contact Lisa Via. Guests are always welcome!
Our summer newsletter is now available. Click here!
Take our short survey on operator span of control. Click here (new window)
David Strobhar's book, "Human Factors in Process Plant Operation," is now available in both hardcover and Kindle e-book.
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