External training provides the winning formula

Published:  26 February, 2014

Advances in the technology of steam plant control have brought enormous improvements to the efficiency and cost effectiveness of steam as a heating medium. However, getting the most from such advanced control systems demands high quality training of plant operators. PWE reports.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says: Everybody operating, installing, maintaining, repairing, inspecting and testing pressure equipment should have the necessary skills and knowledge to carry out their job safely – so you need to provide suitable training.”

The HSE focuses on helping organisations ensure the safe operation of steam and other pressurised systems. Maintaining safety is critical, of course, yet good training delivers far more benefits, including energy saving for lower fuel bills, higher productivity, better product quality and reduced carbon emissions.

Skills shortage

The problem for many companies is that it is increasingly difficult to recruit skilled engineering staff. In fact, the CBI’s education and skills survey 2013 highlights that almost half of its respondents had ‘acute concerns’ in employing high-skilled workers in key sectors of manufacturing, construction and engineering in the coming years.

The question is, if well-qualified, experienced engineers are hard to come by, how difficult is it to provide proper in-house training for other members of staff?

The solution is to bring in an external training supplier, but expert training can be conducted at an external training centre or on-site at the steam–using organisation’s own premises, so which is better?

On-site or Off-site?

There are, of course, advantages to both. Some companies like the idea of bringing the training to them, as it can eliminate the travel and accommodation costs of sending trainees to a training provider’s site. It also means training can be conducted in familiar surroundings on equipment that employees are using day-to-day.

However, expert training at a dedicated facility offers its own benefits. It gets employees away from their work environment to a place where there are no interruptions and the relaxed environment can actually help trainees absorb more information.

Sending employees on a course also helps to make them feel more valued and they get to meet like-minded delegates from other companies, allowing them to network and share experiences.

The advanced facilities of a dedicated training centre offer a host of other benefits. For example, Spirax Sarco’s Cheltenham-based UK Steam Technology Centre is the only UK training facility to offer a fully-operational steam system with SCADA control. This, along with other facilities such as the on-site boiler, means equipment problems can be simulated with a trainee having to find and rectify realistic faults in a safe and systematic manner. This hands-on approach is a very solid way of learning.

BOAS: Stay compliant

As safety in the boiler house is paramount, it is important that those responsible for boiler operations or management comply with the latest regulations and safety guidance.

The BG01 ‘Guidance on Safe Operation of Boilers’, published in 2011, specifically recommended boiler operators and managers complete a Boiler Operative Accreditation Scheme (BOAS) course to promote safe and competent boiler operations.

It’s not compulsory for boiler operators to follow BG01, but as the HSE recognizes the document as good industry practice, this is a good way for operators to demonstrate to the regulator and insurers that they are on top of health and safety in terms of boiler procedures and practices.

The minimum recommendation for operators is that they train to reach Certified Industrial Boiler Operator (CertIBO) status. Similarly, managers should be qualified with a Diploma in Boilerplant Operation Management (DipBOM). These form part of the BOAS course, which is recognised by HSE, the UK Insurance industry and industry members through the Combustion Engineering Association.

Any initial outlay will soon be repaid in a typical steam installation. Properly operated steam boilers provide a safe and efficient way of moving energy around. Complying with the new advice will not only improve the safety of boiler operations, but knowing the best ways to operate and maintain a steam system is the key to improving efficiency, boosting productivity and reducing costs.

Operating a boiler plant in line with the latest advice is also an obvious way to demonstrate to regulators and insurers that you’re committed to adopting best practice and have appropriately trained personnel. Nevertheless, BG01 is guidance, rather than a legal requirement.

Safety training saves money

It’s an unfortunate fact that some companies view spending on training as a burdensome expense. In terms of health and safety, the HSE says that it’s the hidden costs of accidents that companies often fail to take into account. Saving money by reducing insurance premiums, making fewer claims and minimising lost productivity will normally far outweigh the modest initial cost of providing proper training.

Furthermore, properly trained staff can add real benefit to a company’s bottom line in other ways too. For example, BOAS is supported by the Carbon Trust, the Government’s vehicle for encouraging energy efficiency. With today’s rising fuel costs, it pays to have boiler operators who are aware of the energy-saving and environmental implications of optimising boiler operations.

So if you’re asking yourself whether your company can afford to invest in training you’re asking the wrong question. The real question is whether you can afford not to.

For further information please visit: www.spiraxsarco.com/uk

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