OTS and Continuous Operator Training
An OTS is a suitable platform for operators on which to practise because it provides an environment to perform unfamiliar process and control tasks in a safe environment. Any mistake, any error will be converted into a lesson learnt without any real-life consequences. It is key to maintaining the practice of procedures as a regular task for operators and to providing refresher training at regular intervals and for whenever a modification in the plant or in the control or safety system is implemented. Activities with the OTS should include operations such as startup and shutdown ahead of time, and working through the response to infrequent abnormal situations, based on best practice procedures. Training on best practices allow operators to run through the routines on a regular basis, so it is advisable not to allow too much time to elapse between refresher training courses.
Unfortunately, most of the licensed OTS are never used again after initial operators training. However, ongoing training programs can provide significant benefits. It is widely recognised that approximately 90% of plant incidents can be prevented. Moreover, the majority result from the actions or inactions of people. Modern process automation systems have allowed operators to assume responsibility for a larger scope than ever of a plant’s operations. However, as systems become broader in scope, they create the potential to place the operator in a weak position. This situation arises because as systems become more complex they become more difficult to operate. One solution is to add more automation, but this increases complexity. Moreover, automation obstructs operators’ ability to maintain their expertise. The skills lost are precisely the ones most needed when automated systems cannot handle a problem and the operator has to intervene. That is why it is important to use OTS for training throughout the life of the process, not just at the initial startup phase.