Shift relief is a critical part of daily operations. Shift relief is the mechanism that creates a sustained awareness of changing plant conditions and potential problem areas. It also enables operators to plan and prioritize their shift activities. Unfortunately it appears that at most petrochemical plants, shift relief is an activity that is seldom given proper attention.
Over the last fifteen years, Beville Engineering has observed and recorded shift relief activity as part of Beville Engineering’s job sampling process. Job sampling provides a wealth of information pertaining to the nature and duration of job related tasks operators complete. For those job samples that contained shift relief activities, the following table summarizes the duration of time operators spent communicating shift relief information.
Surprisingly, the longest average amount of time spent on shift relief by a particular job category was 7.8 minutes for Head Operators. Given that approximately 95% of all samples fall within two standard deviations of the mean and essentially all fall within three, the most time spent on shift relief across all of the 371 samples was 25.2 minutes.
Other industries, such as the nuclear power industry, spend considerably more time discussing shift relief than that observed in the petrochemical industry. Nuclear power industry shift relief practices are highly systematic and tightly controlled. In most nuclear plants, the control board operators follow a strict progression of first “walking down” the control panels and reviewing all controllers that are off normal and alarms that are ‘in’, as well as all equipment configurations. Operators then review the shift logs and active and completed maintenance. Finally, the discussion covers the shift objectives and work to be done on shift. In the nuclear industry it is common for a shift relief to last 45-60 minutes, some ten times longer than that found in the petrochemical industry.
Deficiencies in shift relief manifest themselves as incidents and accidents that occur when processes are not in their normal modes of operation, such as when processes are starting up or shutting down or during times of high maintenance. Managers should consider adopting shift relief practices similar to those found in the nuclear power industry, especially when plants are not in their normal modes of operation.
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