Imagine you’re a water system operator and you’re still pretty new.
In an effort to get you acclimated, your supervisor leads you out to the chlorine dock. He quickly cracks open the exhaust valve and shuts it just as fast. The whole thing is over before you can realize it but in less than a second, you’re clutching your chest, gasping for breath, half-stumbling and half-sprinting away from the dock, and spending the next hour coughing up a lung.
Maybe you haven’t spent much time around chlorine docks. In that case, imagine the intense smell that burns your nose and turns your eyes red from an overly chlorinated pool on a hot summer day.
Multiply that reaction by 5,000 and that only begins to illustrate the potential danger water operators can face when dealing with chlorine leaks or spills in a utility.
And for municipalities across the country that deal with potentially hazardous chemicals on a frequent basis, like Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), keeping operators safe is the top priority. Many forward-thinking utilities are using technology, in the form of sophisticated software, to ensure safety while improving operations.
Getting to Know Orlando Utilities Commission
OUC, which provides electric and water services to more than 250,000 people in central Florida, implemented Proficy Workflow from GE Intelligent Platforms, a work process management software tool that digitizes standard operating procedures (SOPs) and automates workflows.
While OUC prides itself on hiring only the most qualified water experts, operations supervisor Lee Marshall knew that creating SOPs and documenting processes would go a long way to improving operations, specifically for responding to critical events.
Standard operating procedures can be as simple as a recipe for baking a cake– complete with step-by-instructions. Many companies rely on them to ensure consistency in any kind of a step-based activity.
But in many industries, these SOPs often are collected in a thick binder full of physical documents. The operators at OUC knew something as unsustainable as a binder full of paper just wasn’t for them.
“We really didn’t want to have to carry around a three-ring binder with procedures that were likely to become quickly outdated, difficult to update, or sit on a shelf somewhere and collect dust,” said Marshall. “We needed something more.”
The decision to implement Workflow allowed OUC to guide their operators with interactive, electronic work instructions to ensure more consistent operations. Digitizing procedures meant OUC owned an editable, sustainable collection of work flows. Plus, Workflow improves operations by reducing variation in performance, cost, and quality — it can even filter out “nuisance alarms” while taking automatic action, so operators can perform steps on certain alarms.
Critical Life Safety Alarms for Chlorine Levels
Due to its critical nature, the operators at OUC decided to first standardize procedures for responding to alarms like the critical life safety alarms for chlorine levels.
When an event occurs, a task indicator signals an alarm situation, opens the task window, and provides details on what’s happening with step-by-step instructions for the operator to proceed.
“I like to think of Workflow as a one-stop shopping trip for water operators — the goal is to have all the information an operator needs in one place,” said Marshall.
OUC also streamlined operations by taking advantage of the time-stamped documentation that Workflow offers. Alarms and their responses are recorded: detailing the incident, when it occurred, and when the situation was cleared.
Utilizing Work Flows for Security
In a post-9/11 world, it’s more important than ever for utilities to strengthen security in the plant. OUC recognized this need and implemented a second layer of work flows for the plant security alarm process.
The utility developed work flows to document the criteria for when and whom to call in the case of a breach in a plant or well site. With a two-hour time limit to call the State Warning Point, they created a set of work flows with a specific amount of conditions — generally two alarms — that alert the operator to start the necessary process.
Additionally, OUC implemented work flows for their operators during times of plant power failures, safety shower alerts, and plant sanitary pump failures. Plant power failures are actually fairly common in the state of Florida, as it is said to be the lightning capital of the United States.
“One technician is typically on-site, so it’s important that they know how to respond to each chemical safety alarm during a plant power failure,” said Farina.
To read more about OUC implementing Workflow, download the white paper.