Ammonia PSM Coordinator? Go Gemba!

“Gemba” is a Japanese term for “where the real work is done.” In manufacturing, one of the best things your Kaizen or Process Improvement team can do is spend some time on the shop floor. There you see the problems of the workplace as they actually are – how the process is conducted and the various obstacles that are overcome by employees in the process.

Why is this relevant to you as a PSM coordinator? Because unless you are also the only ammonia technician on staff, you can’t be absolutely certain how the work is actually being done. Furthermore, if you don’t have an ammonia refrigeration background then you are in for a nearly insurmountable challenge validating SOPs.

So, let’s say you aren’t a qualified ammonia technician and you are in charge of implementing a PSM program. How should you prepare for that role? Here’s my suggestion: Go Gemba! By that I mean: Get some practical hands-on experience.

  1. If you haven’t already, get trained on ammonia awareness (Physical properties, hazards, etc) and the basic refrigeration cycle. The RETA books are fantastic for this.
  2. With their permission, spend some time with your ammonia technicians and get your hands dirty. Offer to help carry tools – whatever it takes.
  3. Attend a class at an Ammonia Training Center such as GCAP. You’ll learn more about how ammonia technicians think in this one week class than you will in months of eavesdropping in the break room. As a bonus, you’ll learn enough about ammonia refrigeration to find problems in SOPs before you release them for revision.

I’ve attended GCAP Ammonia Operator I & II and think they are excellent. When I attended them I had already studied just about every bit of technical writing I could get my hands on so much of the curriculum was a re-hash. The real value for me was learning how the aspiring ammonia technician thought and watching Randy Williams communicate difficult abstract concepts through everyday language and clever metaphors.

As an ammonia PSM coordinator, attending of the GCAP classes is an investment in your ability to effectively communicate with your ammonia technicians.

You can get more information on the programs they offer at Also, check out their podcasts at

* Note: You could technically skip step 1 & 2 because you’ll get both at a GCAP class. I’ve attended classes with a “new guy” with no experience before and they almost always “felt overwhelmed”. I think you can avoid that entirely if you have SOME practical knowledge – even if it’s a week’s worth.

About Brian Chapin

PSM / RMP Compliance Consultant
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