Avoid Risk Resurfacing as Industrial Facilities Suddenly Protect from COVID-19

The first quarter of 2020 was very normal for most of us. Setting goals for 2020, attending conferences, exploring new ways of working … then it all changed with the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19.

It is amazing to me how businesses quickly pivoted to employees working from home and students learning 100% online. That is such a positive indication of how quickly we can adapt during times of emergency.

Unfortunately, not all businesses can pivot to business from home models. Many have closed their doors, leaving employees without jobs. Some are continuing operations with skeleton crews to produce clean water, energy and goods that will sustain us during this pandemic. Workers are at risk of being exposed to the virus by continuing to show up to produce these essential items.

Facilities are reviewing recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by adopting new measures and procedures to protect workers. In addition, companies are creating action plans on how to sustain production if the virus infects their uniquely skilled shift crews, which we all are relying on.

Two of the main areas impacted as industrial facilities are adapting to COVID-19 are:

1. The Workforce (to protect at risk personnel)
2. Production (to meet the shifting market demands)

Shift crews are like families. They spend long periods together, cook meals, share a control room and have a passion to operate the assets to the best of their abilities. Shift crews are experiencing significant change to control the spread of the virus, and here are some examples of the new norm for operators:

• Reduced to minimal staffing levels
• Increased number of hours per shift
• Extended number of days worked in a row
• Staggered shift changes to protect shift crews from infecting other crews
• Limited number of operators in the control room at a time
• Changed non-essential personnel to remote work status
• Increased health monitoring of personnel, cleaning, etc.

Other changes that shifts are experiencing in response to COVID-19 demands are:

• Maximized production
• Diversification with new products
• Extended operations to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

That is a lot of change that has rapidly occurred over the past month. With change we always need to ensure new risks don’t emerge and that existing risks are not elevated as a result of changes. Some of the impacts that operators are experiencing as part of these changes could heighten risks that have previously been reduced through measures of collaboration, like shift handover.

As shift crews are reduced in number, operators may experience an increase in responsibilities. New protocols for health monitoring and cleaning can add to the responsibilities for that skeleton shift crew. Remote management and experts require additional time to contact on the phone or video conferencing, instead of immediate help from the control room.

Staggering shifts and reduction in number of personnel in the control room potentially reduces visibility or context of operating activities. And in times of producing new products, collaboration and continuity factor into the quality and reliability for delivering those products.

Operations personnel should not have to question their safety due to less effective shift handovers during COVID-19. Using paper forms and spreadsheets for communication during times where collaboration and shift handovers are restricted creates unnecessary risk. It is important during these changes that we remember the tragic history of industrial accidents.

A Hexagon study of 101 industrial accidents where poor human procedures was a contributing factor discovered 405 fatalities and 2,163 injuries associated to these devastating incidents. Informed workers are a critical part of the layers of protection to keep plant operations safe, especially during abnormal operations.

Adopting Hexagon Shift Excellence digital solutions can significantly improve shift activities and ultimately reduce risk, during normal operations and even more so during the changes being daily implemented as a response to COVID-19. Shift Excellence solutions can digitize operations logbooks, tasks, operational orders and shift handover. This is extremely important when collaboration is hampered and operators are left only with paper or spreadsheets, reduced shift crews, restricted shift handovers, etc.

Digital logbooks provide a holistic view of operations activities that can be accessed by personnel real-time from anywhere. This promotes faster responses when collaborating remotely and reduces the need for phone calls to update a status. It can also reduce the amount of time operators spend logging events and activities if they can be detected, logged and tracked from your data historian in your digital logbook.

Reducing the number of manual tasks required while running skeleton shift crews truly improves reliability and reduces risk. Industrial facilities can expect to save operators around 60 minutes a day by adopting Shift Excellence solutions.

In recent discussions about shift handover during COVID-19 with Hexagon customer Michael Fry, President and CEO of Deepwater Subsea, he said his company has implemented a digital shift handover procedure along with using Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams for the face-to-face interaction.

“This allows us to still communicate on what took place during the shift while also providing us with the opportunity for direct communication,” he said.

Hexagon’s Shift Excellence solutions can be up and running in less than a week with minimal training required, providing quick time-to-value. Implementation and training can be 100% remote to adhere to social distancing and flattening the curve.

None of us knows how long this pandemic will last, but we are certain that adopting digitized Shift Excellence solutions will bring significant benefits during the pandemic and afterwards in normal operations.

Realizing there is not a lot of time to waste, our Shift Excellence solutions are easy to adopt from your first inquiry through to configuring your own changes as the requirements of your operations continue to evolve. The technology is based on a patented spreadsheet-like configuration of forms that is familiar, quick and easy.

I encourage you to contact us for a consultation and demo to see how quickly we really can digitize your current logbooks, daily tasks and shift handover forms to further support your personnel who are potentially operating with higher than normal risk.

On a final note, McKinsey & Company has defined 5 horizons that companies need to consider and act upon.

I believe most industrial facilities are heading fast through 3. Return to 4. Reimagination. Considering it has been less than two months for most, that is a great reflection on the capabilities we have in industrial facilities. I encourage everyone to return strong after whatever situation we will encounter and to reimagine what increase of risk might have evolved as part of the horizons 1. Resolve and 2. Resilience.

Stay healthy!


Jaclyn Arnold
Jaclyn studied Chemical Engineering at Auburn University and proceeded to work over 10 years in fast, demanding operation and maintenance environments assuring risk reduction and production optimization. Her operational experience is influenced by devoting her time to helping operators, leading continuous improvement teams, driving optimization plans, participating in process hazard analyses, designing projects, and implementing process safety management processes. Passionate about processes, she turns to Lean Six Sigma methodologies and technology to modernize how work is performed inside operating facilities.

Jaclyn joined Hexagon PPM in 2015 and is currently Vice President of Owner Operator, providing thought leadership to innovate industrial facilities. She works at company headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, USA.

  • Never Miss an Update