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RESEARCH AND BRIEFINGS

Why Energy and Power Companies’ Personnel Management of Change Is Now Even More Important

 


Management of change (MoC) is a weakness across high-hazard industries, and especially problematic for personnel-related risk.

Picture the scene: You work at a large energy company conducting an emergency response drill. The detailed scenario involves two passenger aircraft colliding at a company owned airport.

The response is quick, professional, and draws upon the company’s preparation and training. It requires the involvement of almost a third of your best operators. The exercise is deemed a huge success during the debrief.

But should you have actually shut down your operations during the drill?

In reality, such an incident could take your organisation’s most highly skilled operators, and most of the supervisors, away from their daily duties. It might leave “back-up” leads and relatively new hires to run the operations — exposing them to considerable risk if anything abnormal occurs.

Risks related to personnel capacity, capability, and competence are often greater than such drills imagine. 

As we continue to operate in the COVID-19 environment, energy and power companies will face significant personnel MoC challenges.

Marsh JLT Specialty’s April 2020 Energy & Power Spot Poll revealed that:

  • Around half of respondents were at least reviewing, with a plan to reducing, their minimum staffing level requirements in operating areas, and some had already done so.
  • Almost all respondents had segregated staff and changed working patterns (including remote working). Overtime for operations personnel was typically increased.

These are significant operational changes. They require careful attention to ensure personnel-related risks are identified, evaluated, and managed.

Personnel MoC Defined

Failure to address personnel MoC can have deadly consequences. It has contributed significantly to many major industry incidents — Chernobyl and Piper Alpha being two well-known examples.

A MoC process for personnel is needed when:

1. Individual roles on a team change significantly. An orderly process is needed to ensure accountabilities are clear, roles are understood, and that individuals have the required competence — individually and collectively — to perform work functions. Safety critical roles should receive particular attention.

2. Team leadership changes. MoC provides a smooth transition between leaders and job responsibilities. The leader needs to understand how the unit works — including core functions, safety critical equipment, and process fundamentals. MoC process needs to be particularly emphasised during non-routine operations.

3. A role’s scope increases. MoC is required when teams are combined, new units are started, or organisational realignment occurs.

4. A team’s composition changes, including the use of contractors. When the team size changes, roles have to be transitioned, and a plan must be in place to ensure the team has the collective competence and capacity to complete work. Safety critical tasks require special attention. With contractors, a layer of assurance is necessary to confirm they are appropriately skilled.

COVID-19 as a Driver for MoC

Many energy and power companies are implementing operational changes to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading at work.

These changes involve personnel and will likely require some form of personnel MoC. Examples include:

1. Split shifts: Many firms are creating split shifts to isolate teams from infections. This may necessitate smaller teams or the dilution of core skills in any one team. Minimum shift sizes should be identified and any change to team size should be quantified. Minimum operations staffing levels should be assessed and managed. Leaders should be clear at which point units should be shut down or capacity adjusted.

2. Reduced crew sizes: Some employees’ inability to work affects crew sizes. Other individuals may have to take on additional responsibilities, and work in new areas or with new equipment. Leaders should understand the percentage reduction in overall staff, and how many positions will remain by using contractors. Any change to team sizes should be quantified. Minimum operations staffing levels should be assessed and managed.

3. Expanded supervisory duties or expanded use of temporary “step-up” supervisors: During COVID-19, leaders may be asked to fill in for absent workers or cover for a peer. Such changes can cause strain for the individual and organisation. The changes need to be identified and planned for. Reliance on too many temporary supervisors may result in a lack of skills — particularly worrisome during abnormal operations. Any reduced management or supervisory personnel should be quantified.

4. Reduced capability: Although organisations strive to cross-train and upskill teams, a team is rarely completely trained to take on all team roles. The loss of a significant percentage of team members due to COVID-19 may leave large capability gaps. Individuals involved in safety critical roles require specific attention. Organisations should quantify the average experience level before, and after, any reductions. Subsequent “triggers” should be identified to help guide operational decisions.

5. Reduced ability to train, drill, and verify: With teams running short-handed, the ability to train, perform table-top drills, and verify skills becomes limited. While this may be manageable for the short term, it is not sustainable during a lengthy pandemic. If a new team member has less experience than the departing individual, the gap must be bridged. Traditional training, mentors, and structured handovers may help.

6. Isolation and reduced face-to-face contact: The challenges of managing COVID-19 necessitate masks and/or shields, and changes to personnel’s physical location. Meetings and training are conducted differently. These changes may impede communication in routine and non-routine circumstances. Take care to ensure training and communications are as effective as possible.

7. Reliance on remote workers: Many organisations have chosen to perform work remotely. This is not without its risks. Part of the root cause analysis on an incident at a gas plant in Australia, which caused significant disruption to the country’s gas supply, identified the relocation of plant engineers to a remote basis, which reduced the quality of plant supervision, as a contributing factor to the event. Removal of personnel from an asset may be necessary, but the impact needs to be understood and mitigated.

Improving Personnel MoC

1. Recognise that MoC is necessary for personnel changes — just as they are for engineering changes.

2. Assign a MoC owner. Have a single point of accountability, with operational leadership owning the process. Only those with deep operational experience can recognise the gaps in competence and capacity.  Include personnel MoC needs in the facility management review process, and make it a standing agenda item on weekly performance meetings.

3. Identify hazards. Ensure safety critical roles and responsibilities are clear. Formulate plans to address the transfer of knowledge, skill, and ability.

4. Enter the MoC in a system for tracking and assurance. Use the data to inform leadership of operational risks related to personnel change.

5. Develop a plan that addresses competence and capacity. Once the need has been identified, plan how to address gaps in skills, knowledge, and abilities. These plans need to be owned and implemented.

Better practice includes consulting with internal stakeholders to ensure that the plan is workable and progress is made. Once completed, there should be an employee signoff and competence verification process.

6. Conduct final authorisation and review to ensure that objectives were achieved. This is done through verification, which includes signoff on training documents, demonstration of skills, use of “draw and describe” for critical processes, simulation, and drilling. Once this is completed, the MoC may be closed out.

Conclusion

With greatly increased remote working, reduced workforces, and changes in work patterns, now is a good time to reflect on and learn lessons from large industry losses.

Personnel MoC provides a disciplined approach to managing COVID-19-related changes. The pandemic’s impact on safety critical tasks and roles is particularly important, as the consequences of poor performance could be disastrous.

Additionally, organisations need to understand both minimum staffing levels and required competence by shift and department. Clear decision-making rules should be established in advance. A strong personnel MoC process will support fact-based decision-making, and safe and reliable operations.