A Safer Transition

Oil and gas facilities are intricate institutions dependent on the coordination of workers and equipment for the effective production of commodity goods. Two main factors – output and safety – are the primary drivers of decisions in this business. But when necessary information is not communicated well, or is unavailable, it puts the entire operation at risk for failures. With newer technology facilitating ever-more complex projects, the potential risks have only increased.
Although shift handovers often are considered part of a standard procedure, they should be treated with the appropriate weight. Reliable communication is critical during these moments, and when relayed information is incomplete or inaccurate, the consequences can be significant. Not only will flawed shift handovers quickly become expensive in terms of time and resources, but the safety of all the workers and staff can be put into jeopardy. Fortunately, there are five steps operators can take to optimize shift handovers to enhance safety and maintain output levels.

1. Make shift handovers a top priority, not something taken lightly.
Shift handovers are completed every single day, and the repetitive workflow that streamlines the process can also easily lead to it becoming a thoughtless habit. The dedication and care with which staff approach the process, however, is a direct reflection of management’s attitude toward making sure everything goes smoothly. Managers should consider asking some key questions to demonstrate the seriousness of the shift handover process including, but not limited to:
• Is sufficient time allowed for the shift handover, or do shifts tend to overlap?
• Are there clearly defined minimum requirements and step-by-step workflows?
• Are effective training methods and workshops utilized to communicate, from management to staff, the top priority status of shift handovers?
• Can other routine activities, such as meetings, run to completion without interruption?

2. Ensure shift handovers follow the rule of thumb, “as short as possible, as long as necessary.”
There are times when shift handovers can take more effort due to irregular circumstances, like equipment maintenance or new and inexperienced employees. In these cases, taking the appropriate time to address and resolve any potential issues becomes even more important. In order to effectively communicate and develop solutions to challenges that may arise, handover meetings should be well-structured and follow a formal process. Some suggested best practices for organizations include:
• Creating criteria for “simple” versus “high-risk” handovers and building appropriate procedures around both. This pre-planning helps alleviate dysfunction should an unforeseen issue occur.
• Prioritizing discussion topics from most to least important, to account for the natural decline in attention span, especially at the crossroads between longer shifts.

3. Regularly check all communication channels for efficiency.
Think back to when you were a kid and you played the telephone game. Despite your confidence in the information you communicated, the end message always seemed to change. The same holds true onsite. Can you guarantee all essential information is smoothly and clearly making its way from staff manning one shift to those handling the next? To help make certain the correct situation is effectively and reliably communicated, consider these steps:
• Repeat the same information using different mechanisms, such as through a written checklist as well as verbal communication. This practice of redundancy and diversity helps ensure all appropriate individual understand the situation from a variety of angles.
• Conduct personal conversations and direct feedback face-to-face. This method often yields the best information, as it is the clearest way of avoiding and fixing ambiguities and correcting any misunderstandings.
4. Establish a practical means of communication.
A shared logbook is a great way of passing on data from one shift to the next, and it can also be used to identify work trends or spot areas for improvement. Technology adds an extra advantage today, enabling digital logs to replace paper-based systems and allowing 24-hour access to integrated databases that can connect sites on both operational and corporate levels. The higher visibility and integration of data in digital form allows for easier fact checking and clearer understanding of situations from one shift to the next. Regardless of the method of communication, data input should be determined by an ergonomic work design, easily understood by all, in order to ultimately save time. Consider incorporating some of the following elements into your log book:
• A logical, self-explanatory content structure. Data that requires “decoding” by the replacement shift can waste valuable shift time.
• User-friendliness, with a mixture of open and closed questions to make the state of the plant clear to the following shift, allowing space for observations and comments.
• Easy navigation so that the necessary data is not hard to find, and intuitive forms that are quick to fill out and provide accurate information.
• Structure design input from the staff, incorporating the existing workflows and preferences in order to streamline existing communications.

5. Don’t forget soft factors: train employees to become “communicatively fit.”
While technical qualifications are a vital prerequisite for new hires, candidates’ communication skills are arguably equally important. Proper training is essential to making sure new hires are able to produce well-formulated logbook entries, effectively give feedback and have a good grasp of questioning techniques during shift handovers. By training employees with best practices and worst-case scenarios, strategies can be implemented to prevent shutdowns and failures. For example, the ROI for investing in the development of interactive training materials often outweighs the costs of what is perceived as a time-consuming activity. Training formats become especially important when considering new generations entering the workforce. A Gallup poll on employee engagement revealed that, while the baby boomer generation averaged a 32.7 percent engagement rate in their jobs, millennials clocked in at only 28.9 percent. Good training concepts can motivate and integrate younger employees, helping to further boost engagement rates of those taking over from older workers moving into retirement. Film and text materials to be discussed in group settings, and their effects outlast those of traditional lectures. It is also essential to make sure that trainings happen periodically, as new behaviors will wear away against daily routines.
Shift handovers are a critical juncture in supporting continued safe and productive working conditions. Greater focus on the process, and good communication throughout, help ensure a thorough understanding of plant status from one shift to the next and support good decision-making, leading to improved safety and consistent facility outputs. 
Daniel Mattiuzzo is a business development manager at Draeger Safety. For more information, visit www.draeger.com.

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