Steam plant operator training – how do you measure up?
It happens all the time. Maintenance personnel and boiler operators are often ill-equipped to fully understand and manage all of the equipment and aspects of the boiler room they are responsible for. Seasoned operators are retiring, they change jobs or leave for other reasons, and new hires are thrown in with little formal training or experience to fill in the void.
All levels of an organization should have a concern for properly qualified, safety-minded personnel to manage the boiler room – from the owner, to the plant manager, to the engineering department, down to maintenance crews and operators.
Why is this so important? The truth is, because the boiler is literally like a like a bomb operating in an environment of controlled chaos with electricity, high pressure steam, and an open flame contained in a single piece of equipment. It is a highly dangerous piece of equipment to be respected and revered. And boilers are everywhere – power plants, manufacturing facilities, hospitals, schools, etc.
What’s the worst that can go wrong? A major boiler explosion can result in the loss of production, and more tragically, even the loss of life. Few schools focus on proper control and containment of energy inside a vessel, and there is currently no national standard for certification, although several states in the Northeast have established laws or requirements for boiler operators.
So what can you do?
- Conduct a thorough interview with new hiring recruits. Look for safety-minded individuals who possess mechanical skill and an aptitude for understanding system components (and electrical / combustion concepts). Many engineers know the basics, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a qualified operator by default.
- Provide formal operator training at least twice a year on system equipment and address questions or problems across the team. Quarterly training is ideal, and a qualified boiler service firm is a great resource to tap. They can assess and instruct on your specific equipment, ensuring the basics are covered including proper startup, shut down, and maintenance.
- Establish depth and cross-training by bringing someone qualified in early to mentor.
Regardless of whether your facility operates a single small boiler or spends millions or even billions on equipment, fuel and personnel across multiple locations, it is vitally important to steam plant operations of all sizes that operators are qualified to safely manage the equipment and systems in their care. Education is the key, and a routine refresher course is the best way to make it stick and keep everyone on the same page.
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