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Reducing Operator Error at Your Utility

These days, technology plays a huge role in managing utilities. However, the role of operators shouldn�t be overlooked. The operators play an essential role in keeping things running smoothly and acting quickly when problems arise. Often, it is the hard work of dedicated operators that keep things consistently functioning during outage conditions. However, at times, operator error can be the cause of the problem.

Recently, in South Bend, Indiana, an operator error caused 10,000 gallons of sludge to fall into a river. The initial overflow at City Utilities caused 1 million gallons to overflow a tank. Luckily, the error was caught early enough that most of it was cleaned up before it could all fall into the river. The utility reports that there were compounded issues of heavy rainfall and a nearby construction project. But, ultimately, the issue was caused by operator error.

Operators are human and a certain amount of error is expected. However, there are certain steps you can take to limit the likelihood of operator error. Try these tips:

  • Encourage open communication: If you want employees to make fewer mistakes, you need to have a open line of communication. If an operator is too intimidated to ask questions, he will be more likely to make mistakes. Encouraging communication and transparency will make your workers more comfortable on the job and less likely to make errors. Check out our post for tips on promoting transparency at your plant.
  • Provide consistent and valuable training: Training is an important part of learning any new job. Errors frequently occur because operators don�t possess the necessary training to deal with technical problems or unexpected situations. In addition, low budgets and lack of oversight often leads to infrequent training. When this happens, operators are not fully informed or prepared to take on troublesome conditions. Taking the time to offer valuable training on a regular basis will reduce the likelihood of error.
  • Make the expectations clear: In addition to providing consistent training, make the expectations clear. Provide concise direction to new hires and regularly offer reminders to veteran workers about what you expect from them. When expectations are clear, there is less room for misunderstanding.
  • Try positive reinforcement: There are essentially two approaches to providing feedback. You can focus on praising the successes for your employees or you can elect to point out when workers make mistakes. Focusing on positive reinforcement will put the focuses on successes, rather than failures. Praise your employees for taking initiative and for regularly providing optimum service. Need help with customer service. Read our tips for improving customer service at your utility.
  • Don�t shortcut procedures: Emergency checklists, flood plans, disaster recovery, and the like are all there for a reason. While these procedures can seem monotonous and boring, they do serve a significant purpose. Don’t gloss over important procedures for any reason. Your operators need to know them.
  • Give them a buy-in: Workers are more dedicated when they care about the work they are doing. Operators are no different. If employees feel appreciated and fulfilled in their job, they will work harder to make fewer mistakes. Take the time to offer positive feedback and go the extra mile to show your operators they are appreciated for the work they do. A positive company culture lets employees know they are valued and offers incentives for quality work.

Ultimately, remember that we are all human and errors are natural occurrences. But, utilizing these methods can help you keep those pesky problems to a minimum.

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