OSHA to revise Palmer guidance on Hydrostatic Trapping

OSHA and the IIAR have not seen eye to eye on the issue of Hydrostatic trapping since 2006 when OSHA issued the Palmer interpretation letter which said the following:

If a liquid expansion hazard exists and the only safeguard to protect against this hazard is the use of trained operators/technicians, then OSHA would not consider this hazard to be adequately controlled, as required by 1910.119(e). After addressing the liquid expansion hazard in the PHA, the employer must address and resolve any of the PHA team’s findings and recommendations [1910.119(e)(5)]. Employers could abate this hazard and address and resolve the PHA finding/recommendation by installing the hydrostatic relief device(s) required by ANSI/IIAR 2 — 1999, Section 7.3.4(a)

Thankfully the IIAR was adamant in their resolve which resulted in the following letter:

OSHA agrees that this revised language addresses the concerns expressed in our response to question 10 in Palmer by clarifying that engineering controls, e.g., hydrostatic relief devices or expansion compensation devices must be used when liquid filled equipment or piping can be automatically isolated under either normal or abnormal operating conditions. We also agree that “trained technicians” acting in accordance with the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.147 (lockout/tagout) can safely perform manual isolation of potentially liquid filled equipment and piping. e.g .. to prepare equipment or piping for maintenance…

OSHA intends to revise Palmer by striking all or part of the reply to question 10 and adding either an explanatory note or footnote referencing the revised language in ANSI/IIAR 2-2008

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You can read the full letter here: http://issuu.com/iiarcondenser/docs/osha_hydrostatic?e=8262184/4645894

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Note: Using administrative controls was always how I taught this in PSM classes. While OSHA didn’t care for it, there was no way they could uphold a citation for it and I can’t find a single time when they even tried in the last five years. Of course, they could always cite you saying the administrative control was ineffective but that was only post-incident.

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OSHA to focus on difficult inspections (like PSM) in 2014

Taken from the FY 2014 CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET JUSTIFICATION of the OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION:

With the agency now in its fifth decade, OSHA finds itself at a crossroads concerning how it will direct its enforcement resources. OSHA has always operated under the assumption that “more inspections are better” as the more establishments inspected, the greater OSHA’s presence, and hence the greater the agency’s impact. Consequently there has always been pressure on the agency to conduct more inspections than it did in the previous years. The problem with this model is that not all inspections are created equal as some inspections take more time and resources to complete than the average or typical OSHA inspection, such as those dealing with process safety management (PSM), ergonomics, complicated electrical and machine guarding; or industrial hygiene inspections dealing with unknown or unique chemicals.

… Under the current system, the only incentive for a compliance officer is to meet the inspection goals as there is no incentive for them to do the larger more complicated inspections. It is important to encourage enforcement staff to pursue more resource and time-intensive inspections for several reasons. As a compliance officer is deployed to conduct a PSM inspection, ergonomics inspection, or industrial hygiene inspection, the agency will see a more effective application of its limited resources… In FY 2014, the agency intends to explore an inspection weighting approach in order to direct inspections to high hazard operations – including inspections of refineries and chemical plants, emerging chemical and health issues and workplace violence – operations that require much more time and complexity than the average OSHA inspection. For example, a construction inspection taking 10 hours from start to finish is ranked the same as a process safety management inspection taking over 300 hours to complete. By utilizing this approach the Agency slightly fewer inspections overall, but will focus inspections on areas that require more attention.

As I read that, it seems OSHA realizes it needs to provide an incentive for its CSHOs to perform the more intensive and difficult PSM type inspections. There are other sections in the document where they claim that the number of overall inspections next year will decrease, but the audits conducted will be more intensive. This is an inspection priority that places quality over quantity.

Further trouble may lurk ahead for the Chemical NEP…

The Petroleum Refinery PSM NEP, which took effect in August 2007, was effectively completed in September 2011 after OSHA inspected every non-VPP petroleum refinery under federal OSHA jurisdiction. OSHA is conducting a thorough evaluation of the 2007 NEP. Since 2009, OSHA has had a pilot program for a PSM Covered Chemical Facilities NEP. The permanent Chemical NEP took effect in FY 2012. In FY 2013, OSHA began evaluating the effectiveness of this NEP, in light of the Refinery NEP evaluation, to develop options for implementing a new enforcement strategy that may target both PSM covered refineries and chemical facilities under the same emphasis program.

There aren’t a whole lot of differences between the two programs as they stand now, but placing them under the same umbrella may well result in even more of the line-blurring we see between Refinery RAGAGEP and Ammonia Refrigeration RAGAGEP.

I am teaching a ChemNEP class at GCAP on September 23-26 with Josh Latovich. If you haven’t attended one of these seminars, they focus not only on the ChemNEP protocol but on many of the “secret questions” that are asked during the inspection. Follow the link above or call GCAP at 620-271-0037 directly for more information.

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The three levels of PSM Compliance…

I’ve always taught that there are three levels of PSM compliance. In my travels throughout the Ammonia Refrigeration Community I’ve seen facilities at every level. I’ve also found that you can fairly quickly figure out what their situation is by asking three questions. Ask yourself these questions about your PSM program and how comfortable you are with it:

Do you have a written plan? There are lots of requirements for a written plan in PSM, but by and large it’s best to adopt the “If it isn’t written, then it isn’t controlled” approach in your PSM program. So, you know that the PSM standard requires Employee Participation, for example. How do you go about making sure that actually happens? Are there clear directives to the person responsible for implementing the element to involve employees in parts of the programs and are examples provided as to how you expect them to actively solicit participation? Are there methods outlined so that people can bring concerns or improvement ideas to the appropriate people so they can be evaluated?

Another example in Mechanical Integrity: Do you have a written plan on how you will set up your maintenance/inspection/testing schedule on your process equipment? Does it include requirements to look at the appropriate RAGAGEP as well as the Manufacturer’s recommendations? Does it look at the PHA recommendations and Incident findings?

This is the first level of compliance: Being able to say Yes to this question is a good start, but to be even minimally compliant you have to be able to couple it with the next one as well.

Do you implement the written plan? OK, maybe some consultant put together a great written plan for you. Now, do you actually do the things that written plan says you do? When you review the program documentation (and if it wasn’t documented, it might as well not have happened) do you find that Employee Participation actually occurred? If the written plan said you would use a certain form, did you actually use it? If the plan said that you would have monthly PSM meetings, did they actually occur and were the appropriate people there? If the plan said that the responsible person was supposed to actively solicit operator input for SOP development, is there documentation that such input was asked for – even if the operators didn’t have anything they wanted to add.

For Mechanical Integrity, did the responsible person implement your written plan to create a maintenance/inspection/testing schedule? Is their evidence in the documentation that the schedule actually followed? If a PHA or Incident Investigation occurred, were recommendations bearing upon the MI element addressed?

This is the second level of compliance: Do I do the things my plan says and does the plan say the things I do? In Ammonia PSM, for the longest time, this was considered pretty much the gold-standard in PSM compliance.

Does the written plan – as implemented – solve the issue you wrote the written plan for? Let’s say that you are in the top 50% when it comes to PSM adherence. You’ve got a written plan. Not only are you implementing the plan, but you can document that you’ve implemented it. Now comes the tough question – is your plan actually working? Do the people in the process actually feel that they are being consulted? Do they feel like they have an avenue to improve the program? Are there issues that could have been avoided if the right people were consulted and those opportunities were missed?

On the Mechanical Integrity side, if you are religiously performing and documenting your maintenance/inspection/testing, but still experiencing breakdowns or MI-related releases, or the piping is simply rusting away, are there things you can do to improve the MI schedule so that these issues are avoided?

This is the third level of compliance. You could consider this the God-Tier in gaming parlance. If you can answer Yes to this level – AND you are continuing to ask and answer the question on a daily basis, then you should sleep well at nights.

Conclusion: Based on my experience and some long (and heated) conversations with some of my friends in the industry:

  • about 5-10% of the processes that are covered by the PSM standard honestly can’t say yes to even the first question. They don’t have a plan in writing so there is really no way of knowing if they’re implementing at all.
  • About 40% of the processes that are covered by the PSM standard honestly can’t say yes to the second question – at least reliably. They’ve got a plan, and maybe they follow it most of the time. Still you’ll find lots of things in their written plan that come as a complete surprise to them.  Some of these plants even have a great safety culture where people do the right things regardless of what the written plan says, but a plant without a plan as their standard is only as safe as long as those people are there and chose to work that way.
  • About 45% of the processes that are covered by the PSM standard honestly can’t say yes to the third question – usually because they haven’t realized they should (or could) ask it.

That leaves about 5-10% of the processes that are covered by the PSM standard where the situation is as it should be. In my opinion, part of the reason that the NEP is causing so many citations is because, for the first time, OSHA is looking at that 3rd level of compliance before the process safety fails and results in an accident.

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Did you get a DHS – CFATS/CSAT Top Screen letter?

A lot of people got a letter recently from the Department of Homeland Security telling them that they have to file a CFATS Top-Screen. Unfortunately, some of you got this in error, but for those of you who actually still haven’t done this, here’s some of the text from the book we wrote for our GCAP PSM class which should get you on your way:

What is CFATS?

Section 550 of the DHS Appropriations Act of 2007 granted the Department of Homeland Security the authority to regulate chemical facilities that “present high levels of security risk.” Under this authority, in April 2007, the Department of Homeland Security promulgated the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) regulation. This regulation is referred to as 6CFR§27 or simply as CFATS.

CFATS requires facilities that possess Chemicals of Interest (COI) above a specified screening threshold quantity to complete and submit an online consequence assessment tool called the Chemical Security Assessment Tool (CSAT) Top-Screen.

COI are those chemicals that the Department has determined have the potential to create significant loss of human life or health consequences if released, stolen, diverted, or sabotaged. This Top-Screen requirement applies not only to traditional chemical facilities, such as manufacturers or distributors, but also, with a few explicit statutory exemptions, to any type of facility that possesses a COI above the threshold amount, including hospitals, universities, agricultural operations, and refineries.

If you are required to have a PSM/RMP program for Ammonia you must also file a “CSAT Top Screen” with the DHS

Essentially the DHS wants some information about your facility so they can evaluate the “security risk” to the country if it were to be a target of terrorism. Using information gathered via the CSAT Top-Screen, DHS makes an initial determination as to whether a facility presents a high level of security risk and thus must perform additional activities under CFATS. The DHS process is a bit complex but the DHS does an excellent job providing training materials on the entire process. Nearly ALL of the ammonia facilities that file a CSAT Top Screen are placed in the lowest risk category; this means they have to take no further steps under the CFATS program unless the information they filed substantially changes.

What training will be required?

The DHS has a class of information called “Chemical-terrorism Vulnerability Information” (CVI) which is protected from public disclosure or misuse; this information is sensitive but not “classified”. To access this CVI you must complete some fairly simple online training by the DHS. The entire training package takes most applicants 1-2 hours to complete; after which you will receive a certificate and be certified to handle this sensitive information that the DHS calls CVI.

The result of the CSAT Top Screen itself is CVI (Chemical terrorism Vulnerability Information) so at least the person filing the CSAT Top Screen needs to successfully complete the training.

What steps do I need to take to fulfill this DHS CFATS requirement?

1) Complete CVI training

The CVI training is available online at the DHS website. A printed version of the online training is available for off-line study. Expect this training and testing to take at least an hour.

2) Gather information for the CSAT Top Screen

The CSAT Top Screen questions are available online at the DHS website. You should ensure you have answers to all the questions before you submit the information to the DHS. This process can take quite some time; the DHS estimates 30+ hours for the average facility but in the Ammonia Refrigeration industry this usually takes less than 8 hours to complete.

3) Submit the CSAT Top Screen

Enter the answers to the CSAT Top Screen questions into the DHS website. This process should take less than an hour.

4) Evaluate CSAT Top Screen results

The DHS will evaluate the information you have submitted and notify you of any further action that is required. Most Ammonia Refrigeration systems are not rated as a security risk by the DHS and have to complete no further action. This evaluation process can take weeks or months – you will receive your results by registered mail.

5) Update the CSAT information as needed

If the information you submitted in your CSAT Top Screen changes, be sure to update it.

This entire process is outlined in greater detail on the DHS website at: http://www.dhs.gov/chemicalsecurity

All the training, manuals and forms required for the process are also on the DHS website. In particular you’ll want to download and read at least the following:

  • Chemical-Terrorism Vulnerability Information Authorized User Training
  • Chemical-Terrorism Vulnerability Information Procedures
  • CSAT Top-Screen Survey Application User Guide
  • CSAT Top-Screen Survey Questions

Additionally, the DHS offers a toll-free help line to guide you through the CSAT process:

The CSAT Help Desk can be reached at 866-323-2957 (toll free) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday.

Again, the CSAT Top Screen is required if we have a “Chemical of Interest” in a “threshold quantity”; for Ammonia Refrigeration this quantity is 10,000 pounds.

Although it is very rare, violation of CFATS (failing to file) can result in fines of up to $25,000 per day. At their discretion the DHS can even force your facility to close until you have met the filing requirements!

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What does OSHA think is the biggest concern in ammonia refrigeration components?

I read a disturbing amount of OSHA documents through FOIA requests for research. About 99% of the stuff I read is pretty useless or already known to me from previous reading, but occasionally you come across something that wasn’t redacted that gives you some real insight into the way OSHA thinks. Usually this comes in the form of a NEP question (from their “secret” list) but occasionally it comes from the CSHO (Compliance, Safety and Health Officer) doing the inspection. Below are some pictures from an actual fine – nothing new and exciting in the pictures or fine, really – it’s typical of a 1910.119(j)(5) citation concerning mechanical integrity defects.

What’s interesting in this case is the comment that was made in the 1B:

OSHA course #3430, Advanced Process Safety Management in the Chemical Industries, Spiral Binder training manual, Tab 3, page 28 includes a quote that states “the loss of mechanical integrity due to external corrosion is the single biggest concern in industrial ammonia refrigeration components”.

I don’t know if that’s true or not; I suspect that MI is neck-and-neck with unintended / incorrect operations. What’s important is that OSHA is telling their people it’s true. Now you know!

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Interesting Times

A wise man once said that it was a curse if someone said to you: “May you live in interesting times.”

EXECUTIVE ORDER

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IMPROVING CHEMICAL FACILITY SAFETY AND SECURITY

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

…Within 45 days of the date of this order, the Working Group shall deploy a pilot program, involving the EPA, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and any other appropriate agency, to validate best practices and to test innovative methods for Federal interagency collaboration regarding chemical facility safety and security…

…Within 270 days of the date of this order, the Working Group shall create comprehensive and integrated standard operating procedures for a unified Federal approach for identifying and responding to risks in chemical facilities (including during pre-inspection, inspection execution, post-inspection, and post-accident investigation activities), incident reporting and response procedures, enforcement, and collection, storage, and use of facility information. This effort shall reflect best practices…

…Within 180 days of the date of this order, the Working Group shall produce a proposal for a coordinated, flexible data-sharing process which can be utilized to track data submitted to agencies for federally regulated chemical facilities, including locations, chemicals, regulated entities, previous infractions, and other relevant information…

…Within 90 days of the date of this order, the Administrator of EPA and the Secretary of Labor shall review the chemical hazards covered by the Risk Management Program (RMP) and the Process Safety Management Standard (PSM) and determine if the RMP or PSM can and should be expanded to address additional regulated substances and types of hazards. In addition, the EPA and the Department of Labor shall develop a plan, including a timeline and resource requirements, to expand, implement, and enforce the RMP and PSM in a manner that addresses the additional regulated substances and types of hazards… (and) …issue a Request for Information designed to identify issues related to modernization of the PSM Standard and related standards necessary to meet the goal of preventing major chemical accidents…

There is much more on the White House website. Buckle in folks, it’s going to be a fun few years!

Update: The CSB issued a statement on this executive order.

Update: The ASSE issued a statement as well.

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Five Year Independent Full Inspection

IIAR Bulletin 110, Section 6.4.4 calls for something called an “Independent Full Inspection”:

At least every five years, the annual inspection of the vessels and heat exchangers shall be carried out by a competent person independent of immediate commercial and production pressures for that installation, who shall carry out whatever examinations and tests he may consider necessary in order to determine that the equipment is safe for further use or in order to specify such repairs that may be necessary. Special attention should be paid to possible deterioration of areas around supports, particularly of horizontal vessels and the attachments to the vessels. Any inspection of heat exchangers should include tubes and tube-plates whether or not the refrigerant passes through the tubes.

Although it is recognized that the method and extent of testing will be determined by the competent person, who will take into account any relevant regulations, standards and codes applicable at the time of the inspection, guidance is given below on the typical extent of testing envisaged in the preparation of this Bulletin.

Appendix G offers a summation of the requirements:

Unfortunately what we are seeing in the field is a bunch of Bulletin 109 forms being filled out with no documented inspection of supports, insulation or Non-Destructive testing.

This is leading to quite a few fines and it’s something that could easily be stopped if the people requesting the 5 year inspections from their contractors (or the contractors themselves) sat down and read the requirements of the bulletin.

It’s very important we understand WHY this inspection is so vital: The ammonia refrigeration industry does not want to have the API (American Petroleum Institute) standards thrust upon us. In an API system every valve, run of pipe, vessel, etc. is tracked and you know quickly it is corroding, how long it will last, when to replace it, etc. In the system most ammonia refrigeration plants use, we have no such tracking. Yes, we do normal preventative maintenance and inspections, but we don’t have a good answer to the question: How long will that pipe/tank/equipment last? The 5 year independent full inspection is meant to answer that, in part, by saying : At least another five years.

An independent full inspection is meant to do things we don’t normally have the expertise to do: Figure out if the supports are still able to hold the loads, quantitatively measure the corrosion in pipe, etc. Your own people can fill out Bulletin 109 forms if you find any value in them, the independent audit is about having experts do the things you can’t or shouldn’t do in house; It’s about having a fresh set of eyes on your system.

Failing to do this will usually result in a 1910.119(j)(4)(ii) citation:

Update 7/11/2013

Please note: You also need to do annual checks but these can be done in-house.

Section 6.7.1 of the IIAR Bulletin 110, Guidelines for Start-up , Inspection and Maintenance of Ammonia Mechanical Refrigeration Systems, states : “All uninsulated piping and associated components such as flanges and supports shall be inspected annually for any damage to or deterioration of the piping or its protective finish; take remedial action where necessary . Section 6.7.2 states: At least as part of the annual piping inspection, but preferably more frequently , the external condition of the insulation and supports shall be inspected.
Posted in Compliance, EPA, General Information, Good Engineering Practices, Mechanical Integrity, NEP, OSHA | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hansen Relief Valve Recall

If you use Hansen relief valves, this bulletin might be of use to you:
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Hansen recently discovered that certain pressure relief valves sold to our customers for industrial use from February 16, 2011 to April 4, 2013 are more susceptible to internal corrosion when exposed to standing water inside the valve. Even though the risk is remote, the failure of a pressure release valve could conceivably result in serious personal injury and/or property damage. Consequently, Hansen has initiated a program to send replacement valves so that any valves currently at risk can be replaced promptly. Hansen has not received any reports to date of any valve failures that have resulted in personal injury or property damage, but Hansen is taking this action in the interest of safety and avoiding potential risks. We are therefore issuing this recall of all valves that may be potentially impacted.

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Specifically, Hansen H5600A, H5601, H5602, H5600R, H5602R, and H5632R valves with serial numbers 02B11 through 04B13 are susceptible, regardless of pressure setting.

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You can download the notification bulletin here.

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West Texas Damage Photos

I took a lot of pictures today while touring the damage in West, Texas. The album is open for viewing but I warn you that I am not a photographer and sometimes take a half dozen pictures of the same thing hoping one will turn out ok.

You can view the album at this link on Google+

The damage was truly horrific and I am very surprised that more people didn’t lose their life to this tragedy.

Remember that you can donate to the survivors at RETA.

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So, you need a PSM coordinator…

The Situation: Several times a month I get a call from a recruiter or a facility that desperately needs to fill a PSM coordinator position. They quickly learn something that many people in our industry are unaware of – quality PSM practitioners are rare, usually already employed and very expensive!

Now, it’s certainly possible to entice someone out of their current job, but it’s going to be a very expensive proposition. If you need somebody right away there aren’t many other options, but if you have time to plan for the PSM coordinator/manager position, there is often a much better solution: Build your own!

That’s right – take someone you already have in your organization, someone who already possesses the hard to replicate skills, and then train them into the job. Interested? Let me show you how it can be done! First, we have to identify the skills…

The Skills: I’ve visited a hundred or more PSM covered processes and audited just about every kind of PSM program for Ammonia Refrigeration. After a while, you start asking yourself: “Is there a common thread?” to what works and what doesn’t. There seems to be a certain type of person that does very well in the PSM role. These aren’t people who end up hating their PSM duties – they are people who come to love them! These people have a few common skills. While these skills aren’t the ones that many people think of when dealing with PSM, in my experience, they are the ones that often decide between failure and success.

  1. Curiosity – Why do we work this way? How does that work? Who should be doing this? That’s right, plain old curiosity is a rare thing these days. I’ve been to bottling plants and asked the line operator who worked there for a decade how many bottles his machine processes an hour, only to find out that it never occurred to him to ask. This is not the kind of person you want in your PSM role! You need someone who is intensely curious. You need the kind of person who will spend a half day doing internet searches on “Maximum Intended Inventory” before feeling comfortable that the issue is covered in your program. It’s the kind of person that says: “Well, it’s asking for Maximum Intended Inventory and this document has those words in the title, so we must be good” that get you into trouble.
  2. Detail Oriented – I’m not talking about typical levels of detail. I’m talking about an almost pathological need for order and accuracy. Oddly, every single PSM coordinator I know that is good at what they do obsesses about document formatting. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? I think it actually points to something more important: the kind of person that notices the fonts don’t match, that the margins are off, or that the bullet points don’t line up, is also the kind of person that is going to notice much more important things, like incorrect valve numbers. Detail oriented people are also good at taking notes – the kind of notes that actually document what happened in a meeting rather than notes that look like a bad powerpoint rendition of the meeting.
  3. Technically Proficient – I’m not talking about technical proficiency in Ammonia refrigeration. I mean that this is the kind of person who is willing to pick up a manual and set the time on their microwave after a power outage. If you’re the kind of person who has a houseful of electric clocks blinking 12:00, that doesn’t make you a bad person; it’s just not likely you will be a good PSM coordinator. Most important though is the ability to translate the written word into action. You see, as a PSM coordinator that’s exactly what you need to happen – the policies, guidelines and procedures need to become reality through the actions of the people operating the system. If you can’t take the written word and apply it, then you aren’t going to be able to take the action and document it in the written word either.
  4. Computer Skills – I’ve trained operators to write SOPs all over the country and the biggest hurdle is always getting them to use a computer to write. It’s as painful to watch most operators type as it is for them to watch me work on a car engine – and nearly as futile. You see, the skills that you need to create, modify and manipulate documents in Word, Excel, etc. are not in any way useful to the average blue-collar mechanic. For that reason, they don’t bother to develop them – and frankly it would be a waste of time for most of them to do so. They already have valuable skills and their time is better spent honing the skills they already possess or building new ones that complement those skills. Just as there are people who specialize in maintenance, there are also people that specialize in working with computers to produce and manage documents.
  5. Personal Skills – They don’t need to have been voted prom queen/king, but they need to be able to work with people across all levels of the organization. They also need to be able to work with outside vendors, consultants, government officials, regulators, etc. in a professional capacity.

Ok, from what I’ve seen, that’s the list. That’s the skillset that pretty much defines success in the Ammonia Refrigeration PSM role. I am pretty sure you don’t have anyone like that in the maintenance department. In fact, most food or cold storage plants don’t have many people like that in their buildings, let alone their maintenance department. Where are you going to find someone like that?

One Possible Solution: You’ll have to go to a place where those skills are rewarded, where people are hired and retained based on those skills. Do you know where that is in your facility? Believe it or not, most companies have someone they can train into a good PSM coordinator sitting around answering phones and scheduling appointments. That’s right: somewhere you have a standout secretary/personal assistant who has the raw material to be a good PSM coordinator.

Perhaps you are saying to yourself: But secretaries don’t know anything about Ammonia Refrigeration! Well, you’re right; but the reality is that it’s fairly easy to teach a curious, detail oriented, technically proficient person with computer skills what they need to know about Ammonia Refrigeration. It’s certainly a lot easier than it is to teach most Ammonia Refrigeration Mechanics all of those other skill sets that a secretary already has. Remember, we’re not trying to turn this secretary into a great refrigeration mechanic. We just need this new PSM coordinator to know enough about the process that they aren’t stepping on mechanic’s toes or devising silly policies.

A Challenging Transition: How would we make that transition? Well, to make the rest of this conversation easier, let’s imagine a fictional character named Natalie who is already a fairly competent secretary / personal assistant. She’s been with the company for over five years and has a track record of success – she’s a known quantity, something that can’t be said for some outside hire with a fancy resume. She’s got all the requisite skills we’ve outlined above and it turns out she’s sort of bored to tears in her job. It’s obvious if you think about it – she’s already involved in every volunteer committee the work place has to offer. She is always trying to help people out and her role in the office exceeds the actual scope of the job because she’s just the “go-to” person when you need something done.

The Maintenance Manager approaches Natalie with this unique career change. She’ll get to move out of the office and closer to the action – where the products are being made. As we said, Natalie is interested in a challenge, but she wasn’t so unsatisfied that she was looking for another employer. She readily accepts because this opportunity allows her to grow professionally while keeping all her seniority, benefits, vacation time, etc.

A Realistic Training Plan: We’re not going to throw Natalie to the wolves here – we have to train her to do the job she’s been assigned to do. We’re going to start with a little “overview of the process” training. That’s essentially going to involve following around our lead refrigeration technician for two weeks while he/she does the job of a refrigeration mechanic. We’re just trying to get her a little familiarity at this point so we’ll encourage her to ask questions but we’re not expecting any actual hands-on work out of her at this point.

After this two week familiarity training, we’ll pack Natalie off to a 4-day Operator 1 class at a quality ammonia school like GCAP. At the school she’ll learn the basics of refrigeration – how and why it works. Once she’s back from her training, we’ll put her back on shadow duty with that lead refrigeration technician but this time we’ll encourage her to get her hands a little dirty: Maybe help drain some oil pots, swap out filters or coalescers, clean out condensers, etc. We’re not really expecting Natalie to become a mechanic here – we’re just trying to make sure she gets a feel for the tempo and nature of the job.

When the technician is doing things that Natalie has already done, she’ll be expected to spend that down-time familiarizing herself with the existing PSM documentation. When we feel she’s ready (likely just few weeks) we’ll send her off again for some PSM training. (I am admittedly biased because I teach PSM at GCAP, but in all honesty there is no PSM course for Ammonia Refrigeration that holds a candle to the course GCAP provides). By waiting a few weeks to allow Natalie to familiarize herself with the job and the equipment, we’ve really set her up for success at this class!

When Natalie comes back from her training, we’ll ease her into the role of PSM coordinator, starting off by having her perform a Gap Analysis on the PSM system. In this Gap Analysis she’ll compare the requirements of the PSM standard she’s learned and the examples GCAP provided with her documentation at the facility. She’ll list the deficiencies, prioritize them and bring them to the management team. Natalie has just set herself up with a good 3 months’ worth of training/work!

Conclusion: You see how this would all work? I know it works in the real world, because I’ve seen it work across the country. The problem our industry faces is that the kinds of people who make great PSM coordinators are generally not the kind of people who gravitate to maintenance departments. Most of the people who have the right skills aren’t even aware that Ammonia Refrigeration and PSM even exist! You’re going to have to go out there and find them, bring them in, and start them off on a uniquely rewarding career. 

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