Safety a Major Focus of CTOTF Conference

Marc Yeston kicked off the Combustion Turbine Operations Technical Forum (CTOTF) spring conference on April 29 in St. Augustine, Florida, with a keynote presentation focused on safety, and how power plant managers and supervisors can improve safety programs.

Yeston (Figure 1) has worked as a flight paramedic, a federal and state law enforcement officer, a firefighter, a ski patroller, a National Park Service Chief Ranger, a wilderness guide, an educator, and a pilot over his 35-year career. His engaging talk included many examples from his past experience and offered attendees useful tips to improve safety programs.

Keynote speaker Marc Yeston (left) and CTOTF Chairman Jack Borsch (right). Courtesy: CTOTF

He said it’s important to evaluate safety performance when things are going right. “The only time we go in and examine [safety] is after something has gone wrong. What we don’t do is learn from and understand our successful work—the things that our workers are doing out there adaptively every day to create safety and success. We have no reason to look at it because we told them to make it work and they do make it work,” Yeston said. “We need to learn more from what’s going on when nothing’s going on, because that’s where the next disaster is coming from. It’s coming from normal operation,” he added.

“What is the difference operationally between an improvement, a system innovation—those two things—or a shortcut?” Yeston asked. “It’s whether it works or not,” he said. When a worker is out in the field trying things, adapting, interpreting things that are happening, and an “aha moment” occurs, a worker might get an award. “Man, that’s fantastic,” he said. But when something doesn’t work, the common reaction is, “You were taking a shortcut.”

Accident analysis frequently focuses on what a worker did wrong to cause an accident. Yeston suggested it’s easy to review an incident in hindsight and identify what should have been done to perform a job more safely. However, he indicated that playing the “blame game” doesn’t solve underlying problems in safety programs.

Yeston implied managers need to plan for the unexpected and realize that workers are usually trying their best to work safely. “Thinking about the unthinkable, and trying to recognize [workers’] humanity, trying to treat others as we would wish to be treated when something goes wrong, and recognizing that none of us is perfect. What can we do to make things safer?”

In an afternoon conference session, Clinton Lafferty, senior program manager for major maintenance support with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), asked, “How do we create a step-change in the safety culture?” He said one of the keys was “making it personal.”

Observations are a big part of the process at TVA. An observation is a planned activity in which an inspector observes work that is being performed. About six months ago, TVA implemented the SafetyNet platform supplied by Predictive Solutions. The tool is intended to improve efficiency and accuracy of observations. The software has a web-based version, but it also offers iPhone and Android applications that make it easier to record data in the field and allows photos to be attached to observation reports.

“We use it cross-functionally across the organization,” Lafferty said. He suggested that providing feedback to workers is critical to ensuring a safe working environment.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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