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Andy’s Almanac on Accidents, Part 10: Best Practice Sharing and Knowledge Transfer
Safety

Andy’s Almanac on Accidents, Part 10: Best Practice Sharing and Knowledge Transfer

By and | August 25, 2022

Join Andy Bartlett, Sphera’s solution consultant for operational risk management, and Sphera Product Marketing Manager Alex Studd for a discussion on knowledge transfer and best practice sharing in the 10th installment of Andy’s Almanac.

Listen to other episodes of  “Andy’s Almanac on Accidents.”

 

The following transcript was edited for style, length and clarity.

Alex Studd: 

Welcome to the SpheraNOW ESG podcast, a program focused on safety, sustainability and productivity goals. My name is Alex Studd, a product marketer at Sphera with a focus on operational risk management. Today, we welcome back to the program Andy Bartlett, Sphera’s solution consultant for operational risk management for part 10 of Andy’s Almanac. Andy, thank you so much for joining us. 

Andy Bartlett: 

Yeah. Good to be back, Alex. 

Alex Studd: 

In our previous episode of Andy’s Almanac, we discussed successfully managing hazardous areas and lessons learned. In this episode, we’re going to discuss a key process safety management element, which is training management and the progression to best practice sharing and knowledge retention. Andy, in 2022, what should companies be thinking about to improve knowledge transfer of important information? 

Andy Bartlett: 

Companies with strong ESG performance have higher returns on investments, lower risks and better resiliency during a crisis. COVID-19, and the resulting disruption to working patterns, has resulted in workplace turnover and knowledge loss, thereby introducing risk into the equation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one-third of work-related, non-fatal injuries occur to employees who have been on the job for less than a year. And we see that more and more now with people joining companies that they haven’t worked for before. 

As workplaces continue to rebound from the pandemic and the Great Resignation, businesses are gaining back staff from furlough, training new workers and onboarding contractors to fill those gaps. This makes the subject of knowledge retention even more important. Companies are grappling with significant operational risk management experience “brain drain” associated with turnover. Employees who have left frequently take tacit knowledge with them. Organizations must invest in methods of retaining knowledge. Spreadsheets and paper files are no longer the answer. 

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Alex Studd: 

“Brain drain” is indeed a problem. Turnover is so high right now, so we have to ask ourselves—how long is corporate memory? You just said that spreadsheets and paper files are not the answer. What methods can companies use to gather and retain best practices and ensure that things aren’t forgotten?

Andy Bartlett: 

To gather best practices, companies need to engage in processes like benchmarking. To retain knowledge, companies should look to real-time software solutions enabled by electronic storage facilities to document procedures and best practices in one central location. This will ensure knowledge doesn’t walk out the door when staff changes. 

We talked about benchmarking as the process of measuring an organization’s internal processes. Identifying, understanding and adapting outstanding practices facilitates a culture of knowledge sharing. Benchmarking is defined as a point of reference to which measurements can be made or a standard by which others can be measured or judged. 

Starting internally, organizations can compare how workers perform at each location. Over time, employees will develop different ways to perform a task. Some will be worth incorporating into procedures and updates. Others may need to be discouraged due to safety concerns. Surveys of employees and management are also useful benchmarking tools, and benchmarking evaluation results should be documented and communicated throughout the organization. Electronic storage can facilitate future comparisons and reference. 

And then we have external benchmarking, where you go outside your company and attend and present at industry-linked conferences. This includes meeting peers from other organizations, and reading publications and webpages from linked professional bodies. An example of this is Safe Work Practices, CCPS/AIChE, which are developed by leading industry professionals and cover confined space entry, energy isolation, equipment filling and mixing, equipment identification, excavation, field reuse of permits, hot tapping, hot work, line opening, scaffolding, temporary instrumentation, controls bypass and others. Engaging in user group discussions for any technology that you are using in your facilities is worthwhile to obtain information not in the public domain. 

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Alex Studd: 

There’s just so much information out there on the internet, but a lot of these videos online may or may not align with the practices set by the business. How can organizations ensure that employees are not only being trained correctly, but also ensure that they don’t fall into bad habits later on that are illustrated in some of these other training videos or modules? 

Andy Bartlett: 

The first step in preparing safety training is to perform a training needs analysis. This, like any other safety process, requires the need to review any relevant incidents or near misses in the facility and worldwide and take them into consideration when developing the training materials. And there’s a lot of information out there about incidents and why they happened and what the causes were. It’s worthwhile to take a look at that and develop a plan to share those best practices as part of the safety training and to prevent bad habits. Regular reviews by the training staff should include your experienced employees, and any incidents or near misses that may point to remedial training requirements.

And on the subject of videos, with the technology available there, it’s possible to upload approved company training videos to the employee’s personal digital device for viewing when required, providing “just in time” training similar to how we use YouTube to find “how to do” things. I recently had to change a fan in my bathroom, and I had to look on YouTube to see what was the right way to do it. And I have been in places where we’ve had to take a book out in the field and say, “Oh, we haven’t done this job for a long, long time.” But, now you’ve got a personal device. You can look up a video and it actually shows you the right way to do things. 

Alex Studd: 

Andy, can you give some examples of some best practices that you were exposed to throughout your career? 

Andy Bartlett: 

When I first started in the industry, it was all on the job training. In the place I worked, we didn’t have a classroom. We didn’t have manuals. There were no written procedures. And I was expected to know how to operate a wheel valve correctly using a wheel key. The first time I came across it, they said, “Use the wheel key” and then another employee showed me that clockwise closes. Don’t tighten the valve all the way when open as it will damage the packing and don’t over-tighten when closing as you can damage the valve seat. That was something I learned. Did I write it down at the time? No, it was in my memory because it was a job I was going to be doing nearly every day.

Another one was the pressure testing of piping. When things have been disturbed for maintenance, flanges have to be checked for leaks, as well as the pressure up the line and where the bolts and gaskets have been disturbed. To do this, you apply a soap solution around all the joints, all around the nuts and bolts, and see if there’s any bubbles. If there were bubbles, then you had to have it retied until there were none. 

In my second job, I was shown by one of my colleagues to apply tape around the two bolted flanges, make a small hole in the top of the tape and then apply some soap solution. If it bubbled, you had a leak. If you didn’t see bubbles, you could move on to the next flange a lot quicker. A time-saving best practice, I would call that. And during my time in the field, it was something that not a lot of people had come across. This was before the internet, so no looking on Google and YouTube. There’s lots of information out there now explaining the same methods. I have looked that up on YouTube. It actually is there. As I moved on in my career, I encountered comprehensive training programs developed with the help of experienced employees. That was to ensure that knowledge didn’t walk out the door, and getting it all written down on paper. 

Alex Studd: 

Andy, have you been involved in any benchmarking and best practice gathering programs? 

Andy Bartlett: 

During my latter years in the field, I was assigned as a safety best practice team leader. The company I worked for had one refinery for many years. And then during a time of consolidation, they acquired four more refineries. Each of these five refineries had different ways of doing certain things. Our team’s job was to evaluate 15 key safety processes across the five refineries with me as team leader. The team was made up of a representative from each refinery and our technical section process safety engineer, who had been a refinery manager in the USA. Each of the five refineries had been built by different construction companies, with different engineering standards at various dates over the 20th century. 

We gained a lot from the study, and we were able to share the best practices among the five refineries to improve how the five sites were operated using the technology available at the time. We put together a presentation and sent it out, saying, “This is what we’ve learned on this particular place we have doing business.” I also had other best practice teams for turnarounds, reliability, laboratory, hydrocracking and environmental, among others. 

Alex Studd: 

Are there any other methods of gathering best practices in employee knowledge? 

Andy Bartlett: 

There’s several methods for releasing tacit knowledge from the employee workforce. One method I’m familiar with is employee suggestion schemes. This requires an efficient tracking and follow-up system, plus time and effort for management to be successful and valued by the employees. I was reading quite recently that a lot of companies have upgraded their suggestion schemes to an innovation management process where employees are encouraged to share ideas. Companies should host regular innovation competitions with public recognition and offer rewards for the best ideas as we did for the best suggestions. 

Alex Studd: 

With all this in mind, it seems like there’s two things that successful programs rely on, one being a strong corporate culture that embraces the idea of sharing and two, reliance on documentation. How would you say technology has changed how we document? 

Andy Bartlett: 

Supportive management is key. Leadership and worker involvement strategies must be used to prevent accidents. Investigation, analysis of incidents and developing trends are essential to identifying problems that need to be addressed. Then, you can put measures in place designed to prevent future occurrences and share the findings and actions throughout the company. It used to be common, in the olden days, to always blame the person who had the accident or had the accident occur to them and then not share it with others because you didn’t want to be embarrassed.

Now, things have changed. It’s best to get that out in the open and prevent it from happening again. On the paperwork side, I was first exposed to a company-wide intranet and became a user. Then I realized that paper documentation was becoming defunct. Being able to search and find examples quickly beat looking in the filing cabinet. And if a paper copy was required, it could be printed with a timestamp warning that this was only valid on the particular day it was printed. 

Alex Studd: 

Andy, this has been super interesting. Can you quickly summarize our discussion here today? 

Andy Bartlett: 

Companies obtained by mergers and acquisitions benefit from knowledge sharing, which is at the center of our new social and collaborative technologies. It’s a cornerstone of digital transformation. Knowledge management identifies and globalizes knowledge to facilitate access to all collaborators. Technologies enable best practices to be linked to equipment startup, shutdown and repairs. For example, every one of your plants will have a utilities area. Utilities areas handle chemicals. They handle hot water. They handle steam, and there will be best practices developed over time that would make them safer to work in. 

Alex Studd: 

Well, Andy, thank you so much for another terrific episode of Andy’s Almanac, and I can’t wait for the next one. 

Andy Bartlett: 

Okay. Thanks, Alex. I’ll be talking to you again soon, I’m sure. 

 

 

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