What would happen if engineers and supervisors replaced hourly operating personnel and ran a chemical processing plant? Supervisors often lament that if they didnít have to run their plants under rigid labor contracts, things would be different. But what would be different; without the contractual constraints, how would supervisors change the operations? Although the scenario of supervisors having to replace the hourly employees due to a work stoppage is a scenario that few want to contemplate, it does occasionally happen.
Over the last fifteen years, Beville Engineering has had the opportunity to observe the operations of plants in which engineers and supervisors had actually taken over operations and were running the plants. During the observations, there seemed to be differences in the tasks the supervisors were doing and how they were doing the jobs compared to the hourly workers. Calculating the averages and comparing them to others in the industry revealed the extent of the differences. As some might predict, all supervisors were spending more of their time engaged in job related activities than their industry counterparts. Furthermore, there were significant differences in how the supervisors were spending their time and the tasks they were completing.
When making the comparisons of supervisors and engineers versus hourly employees, it should be kept in mind that the supervisors didnít have regular work schedules. Most of the supervisors were working well over 40 hours a week, some were working as many as 70 and 80 hours a week. Hence, fatigue and job burnout were a real concern. It is unknown how the supervisors and engineers would have performed if they had been working regular schedules.
Now the differences. Supervisors that were operating the control boards spent on average about 10% more of their time on job related tasks than others in the industry. The supervisors spent about 3% more time inspecting the instruments and 5% less time making adjustments and answering alarms. However, the supervisors did make more control changes and answered more alarms, it just took them less time to do it. What added to the higher direct time for the supervisors was a high amount of non-routine activity, much of which were tasks the supervisors normally complete in their regular job assignments but had to complete while on shift. Obviously, the supervisorsí regular activities were severely impacted and most were doing the minimum amount they could. When not doing their regular work assignments, supervisors also took the opportunity to perform routine maintenance, such as tuning all of the controllers.
Similarly, the supervisors working outside in the units also had a higher overall direct time than their industry counterparts. Overall, the supervisors working outside spent on average 6% more of their time completing job related tasks than their industry counterparts. The supervisors spent less time on equipment surveillance and inspection rounds, about 5% on average, than their industry counter parts. When the supervisors completed their rounds they were more direct in their actions and tended to strictly follow their reading sheets. Supervisors working outside also did spend more time completing maintenance type activities than their hourly counterparts.
Supervisors working outside also had more non-routine activity than their hourly counterparts. Similar to the supervisors working the control boards, the outside supervisors used the opportunity to perform simple maintenance tasks, such as replacing insulation, painting, etc. The on-shift maintenance reportedly allowed the plants to realize considerable savings on their maintenance budgets.
A statistical analysis was performed to see just how different the managersí activities were from normal hourly crews from across the industry. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to test the significance of mean differences for the overall direct time loading mean and for each of the seven task categories. For each type of job classification (foreman, control board operator, outside operator), overall means between the plants and industry population showed no significant difference (90% Confidence Interval). However, two task categories for different operating personnel showed significant mean differences. For control board operators, the task category non-routine showed significant differences in mean direct time. The supervisors working outside showed operational direct time to be statistically significantly different than the industry hourly operators.
At the beginning of the work stoppages there were dire predictions made, including that the supervisors wouldnít be able to maintain normal production rates, wouldnít be able to handle upset or emergency events that occurred, and that plant safety had been seriously compromised. The reality turned out to be much different than the predictions. In terms of plant performance, one plant was setting record production rates while the supervisors were at the controls. Although it was predicted that supervisors would be unable to handle upset and emergency conditions, they did in fact successfully manage several emergency situations, including record breaking weather events. The safety record during the episode also equaled the facilityís historical record.
There are a few lessons to be learned from the experiences. Although the engineers and supervisors were successful in operating the plants and gained valuable operating insight, it is an experience that few would want to repeat. Supervisors did, in fact, spend more time performing job related tasks than the hourly employees. The greatest difference was in non-routine tasks, such as performing their regular job assignments while on shift and also completing simple maintenance and equipment repair. The lesson is not to use engineers, but rather that operators have the capacity to assume greater responsibility and additional tasks.
Copyright © 1999 Beville Engineering, Inc., All Rights Reserved
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