The most important part of any facility’s technical documentation must come in the form of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Operator error is the most common type of mishap at industrial facilities, as well as many other technical industries. Similar to the airline industry, minimizing operator error is one of the most effective ways to prevent incidents from occurring. The airline industry instituted checklists as a way to prevent pilots from forgetting important steps to ensure safe air travel; similarly, most hospitals have implemented procedural checklists for surgeons performing medical procedures as a means to improve patient outcomes. Although power plants may not have planes to fly or surgeries to perform, many power plant operations are no less complex. Every power plant benefits from having a set of procedures that outlines everything needed for operators to perform these complex operations successfully, not because operators are incompetent, but because human error will occur without SOPs in place. Operators who use the SOPs will know exactly what is expected of them to properly conduct their job duties.
Standard Operating Procedures should be formatted similarly so that each SOP maintains consistency throughout the facility. Each SOP should be designed with input from experienced Operators that have performed the associated task or operation successfully in the past. It is important to ensure that the SOPs that are used are accurate and easy to follow. Frequently used SOPs should be given formal reviews periodically to ensure that any changes to how the plant is being operated, is properly reflected and incorporated into the SOP.
Standard Operating Procedures are also a valuable component for training new Operators and can reduce training time. Each SOP is a reference guide and will allow Supervisors the leeway to ensure trainees can learn how to operate facility equipment without excessive reliance from Supervisors. Trainees may also be used to validate the SOPs after they are generated – their unfamiliarity with the facility will allow supervisors and management to perform an accurate assessment toward whether or not the SOPs are easy to follow and correct.
SOPs are one of the most important tools from a training and operations viewpoint toward minimizing Operator Error. Managers should ensure their facilities have adequately documented Standard Operating Procedures that are up-to-date and viable. If not, they must generate these SOPs or hire an outside contractor to do so.