Monthly Archives: December 2011

An Outage Carol

“I don’t care it’s no excuse, the outage was over budget by 28% and it took three weeks longer than expected. That’s millions of dollars and that’s why you’re not getting your Christmas bonuses this year” said the new Senior Corporate Regional Operations Oversight General Executive (The SCROOGE for short) to the plant manager and his team. “we have obligations to our shareholders to bring a profit to them. After all they deserve a return of their investment. It was their investment that created the jobs that pay you. You should be thankful for your jobs and if you want a bonus next year learn how to control your outages everything else you do is fine”. With that the new SCROOGE packed up his briefcase “I’ll be late for my plane, I’ve got to go, I don’t want to miss my Christmas”

The car waiting for him in the plants parking lot scurried him off to the airport. At the airport security he breezes through the frequent flyer line. He checks his pre printed boarding pass as he walks up to the gate and he is in luck they begin boarding first class just as he walks up. He settles into his seat puts his things away and breathes a sigh of relief, traveling during the holidays is always such a crap shoot one minute your good and then you’re not and there’s nothing you can do about it.

As the plane lifts off the runway he thinks to himself “Now I can relax I’m off for a week and we are in the air nothing stopping us now” and with that he breaths an audible sigh of relief. “That’s a big load off your shoulders eh brother” came for the man sitting next to our SCROOGE. “I love flying first class don’t you” again from the adjacent seat. SCROOGE turned to look at the man sitting next to him he hadn’t noticed him getting on the plane, as he did a meaty hand greeted him “I’m TOE” he said with a chuckle “I fix things, what do you do?” Our SCROOGE, still connected to the meaty hand started to bounce from the handshaking, TOE Looked like a mix of St. Nick, a bear and a strange resemblance to Shrek. “I’m the Senior Corporate Regional Operations Oversight General Executive for a power company” answered our SCROOGE “Well that’s a mouthful” roared TOE “How about I just call you OG for the rest of trip, that OK with you?” it was our SCROOGE didn’t really like his title anyway. “Well OG what do you do?”

Our SCROOGE spent the flight telling TOE everything. He felt strange, he never disclosed this much to anyone at work, how could he?  Everything was so political in his world, you couldn’t just talk freely, you had to be worried about every little thing. It felt good talking to TOE he was understanding of all the different perspectives that had to be handled by our SCROOGE every day. “you know TOE if we could just get our outages under control we would be able to really do well by both the shareholders and the plant personnel. But when you blow an outage its millions of dollars, both in cost and in lost revenue. Nowadays the outages have to be shorter and shorter I just don’t know how we’re going to do it”. TOE laughed, it took our SCROOGE back, “why are you laughing?”

“Let me guess, you keep trying harder and harder and the outages seem to get worse and worse, is that right?” asked TOE. “Well I wouldn’t say worst but defiantly not better “answered our SCROOGE.

“You know a pretty smart fella said doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, why don’t you try something different?”.

“What would we try?  Power plants and outages have been around for a 100 years what could be different?” asked our SCROOGE.

“Well I don’t know about 100 years ago but I’m 45 and when I was young we had one black and white TV with only 7 channels and one rotary dialed phone so things have changed just a bit in my 45 years” This struck a chord with our SCROOGE. “Here try this website, when you get home I bet they have something different for you” TOE handed our SCROOGE a card and with that the plane touched down. As they came to the gate and our SCROOGE got up and got his bags together he turned to thank TOE for the sympathetic ear, he felt much better, but as he turned to shake TOE’s meaty fist, he was gone.  “Strange” he thought, but maybe he had to get somewhere.

Our SCROOGE got home Christmas eve and had a great holiday with his wife and kids. The day after Christmas he settled into his home office to catch up on his work. Most people in the plant don’t realize that time off for our SCROOGE just meant that he wasn’t in the office it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t working. There was research to do, conference calls to be on, contracts to review, financials to figure out, reports to read and emails to answer. Each thing he had to think about from all the different perspectives that had to be considered, employee safety, earnings, future earnings, environmental performance and concerns, regulations etc. etc. the list goes on and on. At the end of his day he cleaned out his brief case and in his hand he found the card that TOE had given him with nothing but the website on it, he typed it in his browser and clicked on the Enter key. On the screen appeared “Thank you for your interest, later on this evening you be visited by three ghost’s do not be scared they are here to help”. Our SCROOGE sat back “figures just another crackpot, what kind of name is TOE anyway”. He shut the computer down and went on with his night.

His wife and children had gone to bed, Our SCROOGE was up watching a movie, he could sleep in the morning, a rarity. He got up to get a midnight snack and as he opened the frig a great white light burst forth and sucked him into the frig. He was immediately transported to a 40’ cargo container flying through time and space, inside stood a man, smoking a cigarette, drinking coffee and yelling the most vulgar and protracted set of explicative’s into the phone with an Irish brogue that was close to undecipherable. He pointed at our SCROOGE and motioned for him to come closer. Our SCROOGE did so, the smoky  mad Irishmen stuck his hand out and our SCROOGE did the same. Soon our SCROOGE was on his knees caught in the iron grip of the filthy mouth oversized leprechaun. With an evil look in his eye and a mischievous grin on his lips the yellow fingered apparition released our SCROOGE while shouting “Have a nice day buddy”. As our SCROOGE got up off the floor, the ghost spoke “I’m the f**king Ghost of f**king outages past, let’s take a f**king walk”. Off they went, the ghost was hard to understand, there was a lot of swearing, almost every other word it seemed like, and the brogue make nothing easy either. Our SCROOGE none the less absorbed a great many images of the way outages were. They took 4 to 6 months, they were major jobs, planned years in advanced. Outages consisted of wall replacements, pendant change outs, basket bottoms, turbine overhauls, generator rewinding. It took 100’s of men working 12 hour and 16 hour shifts for months straight without a day off. Each unit had a major outage every 5 years and the utility held this as gospel. Certainly not what went on in today’s day and age. Something stuck though, these crews did nothing but outages and the way they moved and executed work was very different than the day to day operations of a plant. They knew everything about each piece of equipment. There was a tremendous amount of field supervision with a clear line on command  That was interesting, as soon as these thoughts gelled up in our SCROOGE’s head he found himself standing in front of his frig holding a carton of milk reeking of cigarette smoke. “What the heck was that” he shook his head and poured himself a glass of milk and went back to the TV.

Still absorbing what had or had not happened he began flipping through the channels, he paused on a motor home commercial.  As he listened to the commercial he suddenly realized that he was in a motor home driving down the interstate and the commercial announcer was the driver. Where are we going asked our SCROOGE, “to the next outage, we’re the tube guys we show up take the old tubes out and put new tubes in” The driver was a tall lanky dark hair well spoken man “I’m the ghost of outages present if you haven’t figured that out yet but you can call me Chris it’s easier” he stuck his hand out and after the last experience our SCROOGE was hesitant, Chris laughed, ”I’m not like the past its safe” our SCROOGE shook his hand just as they were pulling into a plant. Chris was a far cry from the last ghost, he was well spoken, he had been an English teacher, he was well tempered and patent. Chris showed our SCROOGE everything he and his crew were doing, they were very knowledgeable. When our SCROOGE asked Chris about the NDE, Chris shrugged his shoulders and said it’s not our job. It was the same for the scaffolding, sandblasting, mechanical work it seemed that Chris was an expert in what he was doing but had no knowledge or care about anything else. Chris explained that the overall knowledge of everything was supposed to be the responsibility of the plant. He went on the explain that the plant never did any of this type of work during its operation so finding someone in the plant who knew everything was not something that happened very often. Our SCROOGE said “well where does a plant guy get this experience?” Chris shook his head “just bouncing around I guess”. Our SCROOGE said “that won’t work” and he suddenly found himself sitting in his chair in front of the TV once again.

From behind him he heard a chuckle, it was the same chuckle he had heard on the plane he turned to find TOE. “I’m far less dramatic then my fellow shades” said TOE “come over here I made some coffee you’re going to need it”. As the two of them made their coffee they walked into the dining room and in the center of the table was a huge crystal ball. “Like I said, I’m much less flashy, just look into the crystal at the outages of the future and watch; when you’re finished we’ll have a talk”. Our SCROOGE watched and what he saw amazed him. Outage after outage on time and on budget all executed by the plant personnel and all the contractors came and went with proper supervision and quality. The plant budgets came under control and the skills that the plant personnel gained during the outages grew new and better supervision and more well rounded management. After what seemed like hours our SCROOGE looked away and the crystal vanished. “Well, did you like what you saw?”. “Yes, how do we get from where we are now to there” our SCROOGE pointed to the spot where the crystal had been. “By doing something different than what you are currently doing” said TOE. “Wait let me get a pad” said our SCROOGE. “Don’t bother, I know a guy who can help, a real guy not one of us shades. He will train your people and get them running great outages, here is his card”

Twas the Night before the Outage

 Twas the night before the outage, when all through the plant
Not a creature was stirring, not even a Gantt.
The tubes were hung by the stack with care,
In hopes that all the contractors soon would be there.

The accountants were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of lower cost’s danced in their heads.
And Operations in their permits, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long nights nap.

When out in the lot there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the office to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the blinds and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a Winnebago, and eight trailers being towed in the rear.

With a little old driver, so lively and curt,
I knew in a moment it must be The Outage Expert.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the dancefloor! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the boiler house the coursers they flew,
With the trailers full of Tubes, and The Outage Expert too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the boiler
The clanging and banging of each little toiler.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the stack The Outage Expert came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Tubes he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the holes, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the stack he rose!

He sprang to his Winnebago, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

From all of us at The Outage Expert

Just a bit of fun

Happy Holidays everyone

The things that don’t work don’t get used

Why are Safety programs tolerated not embraced. Shouldn’t it be the other way around shouldn’t our employees be so happy to participate in safety training and programs because they know that it will keep the well, whole and intact in a very dangerous occupation. Why does any facility have to enforce a safety policy?

How many deep sea divers don’t check the tanks before they go in the water, or skydivers who don’t check their parachute before going up in the plane? I’m sure there are but I’m just as sure they don’t last long

Would any of us use a car that didn’t work to commute to work? I think not

The things that don’t work don’t get used

What does this mean for us? Simple if you have to enforce any part of your safety policy then that part doesn’t work. It’s not rocket science it’s common sense, to be specific it’s Common Sense Safety™

THE POINT: Safety programs at their best cost money time and effort at their worst lives. Beyond this what about a safety program the increase’s your plants profits and safety performance at the same time. I can hear you now “Oh yeah and while you’re at it throw in a few Unicorns, an Abominable Snowman, three pixies and just to wrap it up a dozen genies in the bottle, have Santa drop it off”  but I assure you it can be done, I’ve done it.  

THE STORY: I was working for a company that had a very extensive safety program. We had meetings and meetings and meetings, we forms to fill out, books to audit, surprise compliance inspections, OSHA VVP status, safety; committees, work orders and incentives. We had near miss forms, tail gate talks, Job hazard forms and root cause analysis. It was all very impressive and we (well not me, I was always so confused) spent all sorts of time, effort and I’m sure a whole bunch of other stuff I didn’t even know about on safety.

We had to have management safety meetings with all the managers. Then the managers where supposed to have meetings with their supervisors and then the supervisors were to meet with their direct reports. We were supposed to do this every month…eeeegads.

One managers meeting someone had left a blow up beach ball in the boardroom. I immediately started playing with it bouncing it on the table, wall, chairs and other people in the room. The guy running the meeting, let’s call him Mr. Uptight was getting more and more frustrated with me and my ball. He asked me to stop it, deflate the ball and pay attention, being the mature manager that I was I said “NO!” and continued to play.

While playing with my ball, I wasn’t falling asleep, doodling or trying to mentally transport myself to anywhere else, really anywhere … I was actively listening. As I started playing a game of conference table volleyball with the manager on the other side of the table, I actually started to comment about what we were talking about (Strange I never commented).I actually starting to get engaged, as I started to talk again (still batting the ball around) Mr. Uptight turned and saw that I was passing the ball around and got so pissed he stabbed the ball with his pen….meeting over.

The next month we all shuffled into the boardroom ready to endure yet another dull, tiresome, tedious safety meeting, I missed my beach ball, silently I shouted WILSON!!! Front and center stood Mr. Uptight, with a strange gleam in his eye. I sat, girded my loins (at least I like to think I did) and started to identify with Jack Nicholson in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest and Mr. Uptight was my own personnel Nurse Ratched.

When we were all seated Mr. Uptight, with a flourish, pulled from behind him a large shopping bag and began to walk around the room. Our instructions were to close our eyes and reach it the bag grab something. The first of us reached into the bag, a hush fell over the room, would he have his hand? It was very tense in the room. His hand came out of the bag clutching a can of……Playdough. We were all stunned, what kind of new torture was this? Surely Mr. Uptight was just retaliating from last month, there must be a piranha or something equally harmful in the bag the first guy must have just gotten lucky. The next hand came out of the bag with a fist full of balloons.

Mr. Uptight had lost it, time to call the Happy Farm and tell them they would be receiving another gleeful participant. He didn’t say a word until he got back to the front of the room. We all sat dumbfounded and confused. A room full of managers all with a toy in our hands, a Yo-Yo, Silly Putty, Playdough, A Pinky,  a Paper Airplane, etc. etc. 

Mr. Uptight laughed at all of our expressions, he then explained and apologized. He went on to explain that he couldn’t stand the way the meetings were either and the most productive he had ever felt during one of these meetings was when we were playing with the beach ball. He researched the phenomenon and decided to give it a try.

The theory was that, if you were at play then you were more creative.

It worked; we wound up playing with toys during our safety meetings and at the same time designing a safety program called “Common Sense Safety™”. This program did the following

  • Was OSHA’s VVP program, benchmark for employee accountability for years
  • Helped a waste to energy facility go for 14 months without a recordable injury, best in company history
  • Through VVP we trained other plants and facilities on this program
  • The year we developed the “Common Sense Program™” the plant also broke all the production records of the plant, there are no accidents
  • Was one of the building blocks of the plants “worst to first” run in just one year

Safety…It’s not a form you fill out

 “It’s not a F**king Ice cream parlor” had such a great response that I am departing from just speaking about outages for these next two weeks to speak directly about safety.

 Safety is after all the most important component of our industry; I have been “around” 20 industrial deaths. Every single one a tragedy. When I say “around” I mean they happened on Job sites that I was on at the time or Job sites where I was part of the recovery efforts after this most horrible of all events, Thank God, knock on wood, none were my direct reports or under my command at the time of each incident.

 I’m trying not to sensationalize this point, but I have endured nothing more soul scaring than each one of these events. When something happens in real life I’m cool calm and collected…even been described as icy (just for those who haven’t realized yet, that’s because I’m in charge and losing it is not an option). However, I can’t see blood or gore in make believe, I cover my eyes in movies and while watching TV and if it doesn’t end quickly I have to get up and leave the room or theater.

 Throughout all of these events, I have found a remarkable similarity. None of the Individuals were “The new Guy” who just didn’t know any better. They were all people with years of experience and considered well seasoned veterans who had a significant event happen in their personal life outside of work. Their heads were not in the game for that day, for if they were, they would still be here

 If a direct report tells you “I keep my personal life at the door when I come to work” they are absolutely full of it.

 If a Supervisor tells you “keep your personal life out of the work place” run because that individual has no idea how to help you stay safe and they are supposedly in charge.

 If a manager doesn’t understand that people have bad days (and when they do they should be sat on the bench and given a box of crayons for that day) then apply somewhere else it’s not good and won’t be.

 What am I really saying with these examples is this. The thought that any individual can separate work and home is BULLS**T!!!!!!!!!!!. I cannot stress this enough, I cannot stress this enough, I cannot stress this enough etc. etc.

 I hesitate in saying the following for two reasons, first and foremost I do not want to curse the gods with my hubris and secondly at the heart of things I’m just a guy who tries not to do stupid stuff and if I do, I try not to do it again. So I do not think that I am an expert on safety, however my experience would prove me to be. I’ve had thousands, probability tens of thousands, of direct and indirect reports throughout my career and the worst accident was a few stitches and one broken bone (both happened at remote sites where there was no supervision), bear in mind I’ve done over 250 outages and have been in this industry as a supervisor, manager, executive for 20 plus years

The above is simply to establish my bona fides so that the following can be taken as seriously as possible it is my formula for safety on the job. It’s not right, it is simply what I do, It works and if this helps one person it’s worth it

 Points to consider

Most safety policies and procedures are written to isolate the company from liability and they are often written by people who do not actually perform the tasks that the procedure is controlling. The company must be isolated from stupid employees because lord knows they are out there. In my experience you can achieve both company liability isolation and a procedure that actually keeps someone safer than they would be without one. To do this the various safety and compliance experts need to watch the individual performing the task at hand and make that job easier not more complex. When you do this you will be amazed at how well your people adhere to the safety policy

 Most Hourly personnel (for lack of a better way of saying it and the desire to be clear the people who actually do the work) in our industry are what are known as Kinesthetic Learners which is about 15% of the population. Most of the population is either are Visual or Auditory learners and most standardized education is based on this. That’s why most of your technicians are very intelligent but did not do well in school. Kinesthetic people learn by doing, not by talking or looking. All the safety programs I have ever seen sit a kinesthetic person down and try to teach them orally or with visual presentations. If you want to maximize your training efforts test your audience and tailor the delivery of information to fit the crowd

 The eyes are the window to the soul; sounds trite but truer words have never been spoken. Recently I was in a plant assisting them with their outage and the midnight shift’s Forman went on vacation and the leadman quit. This left the shift with no established leader, a dangerous situation normally, even more so during and outage. Someone in the crew stepped up, which always happens, and we started to have a quick talk with the entire crew before they started each shift. I have found that I can look people in the eyes and tell if they are “In the Game or not”, I don’t think I have any superpowers I know everyone can see it they just have to look. The crew would come to where I was camped out we would go over my expectations for the evening, during that time I would look each one in the eye and see where their head was at. About three nights into this routine the new leadman looked horrible, vastly different than he had looked the previous evenings. I told him to go home, he refused, he didn’t want to let the team down, I settled for him not to do anything that night my direct order was “sit on a bucket and point all night”. He didn’t listen, He’s a power plant guy and I’m talking to him about what I feel, what a sissy. He got taken out in an ambulance later that night with an internal sickness that if he had waited just a few hours more he would not have survived. He, at last I checked, is feeling better and on the road to recovery. The point of this is that the eyes have it, I live that and know it deep down and because of it I have a much better than average safety record than anyone I know. Teach your supervisors to look into their direct reports eyes before every shift and it will significantly improve your safety performance.

OSHA is online read it!

. Like I said in “It’s not a F**king Ice Parlor” I have a big problem with what I call the “OSHA Thumpers”. I find that they are generally more concerned with asserting their authority (usually the lack there of) then protecting their fellow worker. Don’t get me wrong we are in the business of getting things done, things most people outside our industry can’t even imagine, and it isn’t easy. In general Power Plants have to adhere to the following CFR’s 1910 and 1926, the more you know the less power the “Thumpers” have


In 1910 these are the top ten areas, right off the OSHA website:

 Bloodborne Pathogens – 1910.1030

 Hazard Communication – 1910.1200

 Respiratory Protection – 1910.134

 Occupational Noise Exposure – 1910.95

 Powered Industrial Trucks – 1910.178

 Permit-required Confined Spaces – 1910.146

 Lockout/Tagout – 1910.147

 Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response – 1910.120

 Guarding Floor and Wall Openings and Holes – 1910.23

Personal Protective Equipment – 1910.132


 Next week I’ll tell you about “The Common Sense Safety Program™” and how it came into being. “The Common Sense Safety Program™” was held as a benchmark for employee accountability by OSHA’s VPP program for many years