The key to enabling greater workforce safety in the electric power industry is information management – yet it is often overlooked. OpenText vice president ANZ Mike Lord discusses how effective information management not only significantly improves workforce safety, but also increases efficiency.
Alarming statistics from Safe Work Australia show at the end of 2014, 187 Australian workers had been killed in workplace-related accidents. As of May this year, the number already hit 65. These figures highlight a stronger need for local companies, including those within the electric power sector, to place a greater emphasis on ensuring comprehensive processes, policies and training are implemented to enhance workplace safety and education.
Besides managing and maintaining assets to drive business, a key objective of any asset operator – particularly within the electricity distribution, transmission and generation sectors – is to sustain safe and reliable operations, specifically to cause zero-harm to employees, the public and the environment. Palpably, the role of information in achieving this is critical. Importantly, the information must be complete, accurate, context-specific, as well as accessible to all relevant users in real time and from any location.
The role of information
Highly regulated, asset-intensive industries, such as the electricity distribution, transmission and generation sectors face a major task managing the safe operations and maintenance of large, complex assets – and information plays a critical role here. For one, standard operating procedures (SOPs) for those assets must be carefully documented and readily available, so workers can do their jobs effectively while avoiding industrial accidents.
Knowledge management is also crucial during times of workforce change. According to Networks NSW, a total of 2750 jobs will not be funded next financial year across the NSW electricity distribution network, as a result of a network funding cuts to be made by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER). With this kind of projection, energy companies will need to ensure that the intellectual property of the workers who are leaving the company does not leave with them.
Specifically, companies must be capable of capturing and documenting the tacit operational and training knowledge workers have accumulated through experience, so as to ensure asset-specific knowledge isn’t lost once they leave. This knowledge, along with existing training content, should be available on demand to help reduce the millions in fines companies often incur each year due to safety and training noncompliance.
Potential pitfalls of poor asset information management
There are many potential implications that can result from poor asset information management. Most critically, it could lead to injuries or fatalities involving workers who deal directly with electricity generation and transmission or even the public.
Less seriously – but still financially damaging – are other possible outcomes, such as an extended mean-time-to-repair due to inaccurate information, or low productivity as a result of prolonged time spent on duplicate data and documentation. Moreover, it could also lead to overall efficiency loss due to poor training and knowledge transfer.
The safety pain points
Today’s electricity providers face a number of information-related pain points around workforce safety and efficiency, many of which can be mitigated by robust information management solutions.
1. Difficulty in locating the most up-to-date documentation
Many of the solutions companies currently employ to resolve integrity and safety issues – such as creating an independent knowledge base – are typically too expensive and labour-intensive, or simply serve to create another information silo.
The effective management of information links processes, master data and content together. It enables auditable version control and records management, providing accurate and reliable information at your fingertips for a specific functional location, piece of equipment, material, vendor, work order or task.
2. Due diligence is undocumented
While it may seem that this issue is only related to compliance and the possibility of litigation, claims and penalties, undocumented due diligence can actually signify that it never actually happened – a scenario that clearly raises safety issues.
The ability to transparently manage revisions, as well as the audit trails of documents and processes, means both regulators and operators can rest assured that assets are being safely inspected, managed and maintained. All types of information, including electronic documents, paper and emails, should be available from a single source of truth and governed by management of change.
3. Knowledge of experienced and retiring workers not effectively captured
If experienced workers are consistently expected to bridge the gap between incomplete information and new hires, what happens when they leave or retire? This can create significant knowledge gaps in training, slow down onboarding, increase costs if older workers have to be retained, and reduce the workplace safety quotient that comes from years of an individual operating and maintaining a specific asset.
Evidently, it is necessary to extract and document this knowledge, often in the form of unstructured information, or increasingly in the form of digital assets like video. That information must then be integrated into best practices and procedures, made accessible to all workers and embedded in the context of SOPs and work orders. Furthermore, businesses can also bolster their knowledge transfer framework by training multi-skilled, cross-functional teams.
Why asset information management is key
With a robust information management solution in place, organisations working within the electric power industry can reap a broad range of benefits related to safety and efficiency. For one, companies can ensure that all information about the asset, materials and vendor is provided to workers wherever they are, and in whatever context of work. By having this material dependably available, businesses can reduce asset downtime, as well as boost consistency and compliance with processes.
Another key benefit of information management is the ability to better manage corporate memory and thereby facilitate training. For example, companies should be able to configure documentation, procedures and best practices as templates and embed them directly in the workspace of any process, activity or asset. With the right solution, all types of information can be managed, including audio, video and photos. This way, knowledge and procedures are captured in a readily transferable format – such as a videotape of a plant walk-through.
Ultimately, safety in the context of operating and maintaining major assets starts with the hands-on workforce, but it goes beyond that to include the public and the environment. This means companies have a tremendous responsibility in promoting and enabling safety in the broadest context possible.
Unfortunately, information management is too often seen as a secondary activity. In order to help workers perform their work in a safe and timely manner and to ensure the safety of internal or external parties, businesses need to recognise information management as a primary activity that is not only integrated with but embedded in the work that plant, operations and field workers carry out.