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SGA 2019 Recap: The Most Important Conversations in the Control Room

This year, the Southern Gas Association introduced a new mid-year SGA Natural Gas Connect conference. SGA 2019 provided exceptional value for pipeline control room managers and other operations personnel who support the control room.

From my perspective attending the conference, the conversations among attendees broke down into three main categories:

  • The approach to Change Management and its impact on the control room
  • The main concerns in the control room that keep control room managers up at night
  • How to really know whether you are prepared for a control room audit

How to Support Change Management in Pipeline Operations

There are two main components to change management in pipeline operations: communicating information from the top all the way to the controller level and transferring knowledge from experienced personnel to new personnel entering the industry.

– There were many conversations about where control room managers have landed on their journey to support pipeline safety initiatives, both through enhanced communication and facilitating change in attitudes and behaviors.

Some pipeline operators are further along in their journey. This includes weekly meetings, routinely following up on critical issues, developing accountability practices, and tracking all of this information through MOC work orders. Others are still ramping up their efforts to affect change in the control room.

– An underlying issue surrounding change management is the transition in the workforce. Last year’s SGA Operations Conference focused on how to attract younger workers to pipeline operations in order to transfer knowledge, skills, and experience to the next wave of talent.

This year at SGA Natural Gas Connect, the conversation shifted to how to retain younger workers who have now entered the field and need more support to advance in their careers.

Specifically, mentorship was discussed as a critical piece of the puzzle for younger workers to receive hands-on training and education about how to achieve excellence in their role.

– Taking these two elements together, when the culture is aligned with a commitment to knowledge transfer, pipeline operators are seeing tremendous results from their change management efforts.

The Main Issues Keeping Control Room Managers Up At Night

We have heard many different issues that weigh on the minds of control room managers. The list includes audit preparation, hours of service, workload monitoring, fatigue mitigation, documentation and recordkeeping, regulatory compliance, roles and responsibilities in the control room, or other issues.

One additional issue that was stressed during the SGA Natural Gas Connect conference is the topic of team training. Specifically, how control room managers are trying to implement the recommended guidelines in the PHMSA Control Room Management (CRM) Rule.

The consensus is that each operator is at very different places on their journey to complete implementation of team training. Fortunately, operators and control room managers have time to ramp up compliance with the team training requirement.

Although the stated deadline of January 2019 has passed, PHMSA has yet to start enforcing the latest recommendations from their FAQ clarifications issued in January 2018.

The key action for operators is to look at the integrated inspection documents made available by PHMSA. The documents include team training questions that can help operators ensure alignment with the latest recommendations in time for when PHMSA begins enforcing the team training requirement.

How to Prepare for A Control Room Audit

Another important reason to review the integrated inspection documents is because the nature of the PHMSA audit is evolving.

We heard throughout this year’s conference season that PHMSA plans to slow down control room management inspections and ramp up integrated inspection efforts.

What does that mean for control room managers? PHMSA will soon begin specializing in auditors and sending teams to each operation. Each of the areas that relates to integrated inspection will have an expert who will dive deeper into the questions asked during an audit.

For control room managers and support personnel, the main point is to take a proactive approach to refining control room management plans, focusing on continuous improvement, and ensuring controller understanding.

This points to the idea that inspectors are advancing from asking general questions about the control room to more specific questions to specific personnel in the control room. This means key personnel such as controllers need to be able to articulate and explain their adherence to the internal policies and procedures in the control room.

Overall, there is a greater level of detail and a higher level of rigor required moving forward. It’s about creating meaning for controllers so that they understand what they are doing, and then can communicate this information to an inspector when asked.

EnerSys Committed to Supporting Control Room Managers

As we learned at SGA 2019, there is a lot for control room managers to take in, process, and then implement in the control room.

Whether it’s managing change, supporting team training in the entire operation, or ensuring preparation for a rapidly-changing audit process, there are many factors to consider.

To help you take the right steps at the right time on your journey, EnerSys is available to work with you as an agent of change for your operation.

Through our consulting and compliance services, we are capable of helping develop a plan of action. We begin with understanding the most important issues in your control room, carry forward to strategic steps to support implementation, and then continuously manage the change.

Contact us today to discuss your specific operation. We would appreciate the opportunity to pour the lessons learned from SGA 2019 into your operation.

– Additionally, listen to my full discussion of this year’s SGA Natural Gas Connect conference with EnerSys CEO Russel Treat on the Pipeliners Podcast Episode #86.