Maintenance training reduces human errors

Maintenance training reduces human errors

Human errors resulting from lack of knowledge or improper use of technologies can be costly. They can also be reduced with a well-trained maintenance staff

By Vic Varma, Electric Power Research Institute, Nuclear Maintenance Application Center

Effective plant performance depends upon a well-trained maintenance staff. In the past, a maintenance person learned a trade and improved skills over time through the performance of day-to-day activities. Changing economic conditions are requiring workers to develop multiple skills and be open to learning new technologies and using new tools. Companies continuing to use yesterday`s methods cannot remain competitive in today`s market place.

Human errors resulting from lack of knowledge or improper use of available technology are costly. Little definitive data are available to relate the cost of training with increases in plant efficiency and the corresponding financial savings. Many plants have had difficulty in justifying training expenses. With rising operating and maintenance costs and continuing demands for cost reduction, plant operators may find it worthwhile to collect and maintain data that help justify the costs of training programs. Information on reducing human errors, repair or maintenance time for certain tasks and outage durations can easily justify substantial investments in personnel training.

Equipment quality and maintenance practices have each improved in recent years. These improvements have contributed to a general reduction in the number of equipment failures. However, statistics indicate that failures due to human errors as a percentage of all other failures are rising. Figure 1 shows the forced outage data of U.S. commercial nuclear power plants from all causes for the period 1990-1994. Approximately 27 percent of plant outages resulted from human error. It is possible that substantial improvement in equipment and maintenance quality has resulted in this relative increase in human errors by decreasing failures from other causes. Nevertheless, losses from human failures can still be substantial.

One utility found that failures due to human error were approximately two and a half times greater than those attributed to hardware failures, as shown in Figure 2. As a result, this utility introduced a training program specifically designed to reduce human errors, resulting in more than a 50 percent reduction within the first year.

Some typical causes of human error are: limited prequalifications for the job; lack of training in the use of proper tools; lack of communication; lack of accountability; lack of awareness of the effects of the quality of work; and lack of pride in the work.

To increase the effectiveness of plant training programs, available resources should be applied to areas that curb plant operations and maintenance costs. Properly trained personnel are the heart of safe and reliable plant maintenance and operations. Therefore, an investment in a comprehensive training and evaluation program should yield a handsome return.

Training objectives/methods

The main objective of most commercial power plant training programs is to develop a healthy respect for the efforts required to perform plant maintenance. These programs also seek to assure a level of confidence in the skill of the individuals. To be effective, training must be relevant to the job. It must be timely, challenging and technically accurate. Training must also teach efficient use of all available resources.

Various methods are available to provide proper training for plant personnel. The traditional method of an instructor delivering a lecture to a room full of people may not be sufficient for the level of skills required to perform today`s maintenance activities. It is important that students learn the technical basis for their activities. They should also have an opportunity for hands-on practice with the various tools and components used in their plant. Key elements of any training program are qualification, indoctrination, training, evaluation, certification and documentation.

Key elements

Repair and maintenance organizations are responsible for establishing the minimum qualifications related to maintenance work. The qualifications of each individual should be evaluated and documented for acceptance. Qualification attributes should include education, documented training and documented experience.

Most U.S. utilities have identified tasks that require minimum qualifications. These qualifications are supplemented by specific training, which is divided into three categories–basic, intermediate and advanced.

Indoctrination of an individual is an important part of training. Objectives and training methods should be clearly conveyed to each person. In addition, each individual should be made familiar with:

z station policy, procedures and performance standards;

z applicable code requirements;

z applicable maintenance procedures and prerequisites;

z an organization`s quality control responsibilities; and

z plant ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) policies and requirements, if applicable.

During indoctrination, a trainee must understand the management structure, reporting responsibilities and what is expected from him as an employee. Throughout the training period, a gradual improvement in the student`s knowledge base is important. If there are certain plant procedures he is expected to follow, they should be made available to him. The trainee should also be made aware of the training evaluation process and the effect of this evaluation on his performance.

The STAAR principle (stop-think-ask-act-review) should be inculcated in every trainee during the training process. Every trainee should be encouraged to think and ask questions before proceeding with any assignment.

It is important to identify areas that require special attention for training. Most U.S. utilities have set up training advisory boards consisting of the plant operations manager, maintenance managers and the training manager to identify needs and methods for training. These boards use certain indicators such as human errors, number of repeat work orders for the same job and frequency of equipment failures to adjust training activities. The boards are also responsible for measuring training effectiveness.

Continuing training programs maintain a high performance level for all maintenance personnel. Most U.S. utilities have established a standard frequency for recertification training. This frequency depends on how often an individual performs a particular task. If an individual did not have the opportunity to work on his specialty for a prolonged period, he may be asked to undergo a refresher training course earlier than the scheduled frequency. However, it should be kept in mind that refresher training courses must be designed carefully. If an experienced technician is asked to take the same training as a newcomer, he will become bored and the purpose of the refresher course may be defeated. A properly designed continuing training program will enhance professionalism, make personnel knowledgeable in the latest techniques and methods, and correct deficiencies found during on-the-job evaluation.

In addition to hardware for hands-on training, documents like plant procedures, equipment repair manuals, computer-aided training methods and a variety of other tools are valuable for effective training. However, development of this type of training course material is expensive. To reduce costs, some utilities have opted to include material developed by other organizations, such as the Electric Power Research Institute, in their training programs.

Allocating resources

Making effective use of available re sour ces is a valuable asset in any manager. However, reasonable resources must be provided for training in order to meet plant objectives and goals. Here, resources are defined as capital outlay for buildings and equipment, sufficient operating budget and capable instructors. Resourceful training departments can stretch their budgets by obtaining and refurbishing discarded equipment from the operating plant, building mockups in-house and utilizing experienced plant personnel as training instructors on occasion. The information in Table 1 may be used as a budget indicator for training departments.

Most utilities are implementing a “team” concept for specific jobs. This means a single team of maintenance personnel will complete an assigned task, including all electrical, mechanical and instrumentation work. Therefore, team members must acquire multiple skills and remain under constant peer review. To become aware of how the quality of his work effects plant operations, a maintenance person not only needs to know how to fix certain equipment, but must also understand how that equipment fits into the overall plant system. This is only possible if properly qualified personnel are selected and provided with the necessary training and tools to understand and complete the task at hand. z


EPRI NP-6516, Guide for the Application and Use of Valves in Power Plant Systems, August 1990.

EPRI NP-6660, Application Guide for Motor Operated Valves in Nuclear Power Plants, March 1990.

EPRI NP-7501, Application Guide for Motor Operated Butterfly Valves in Nuclear Power Plants, January 1993.

EPRI NP-5710, Handbook for Evaluating the Proficiency of Maintenance Personnel, March 1988.

EPRI NP-6679, Guidebook for Maintenance Proficiency Testing, December 1989.

INPO ACAD 92-008, Guidelines for Training and Qualification of Maintenance Personnel, September 1992.

INPO ACAD 91-017 (Rev. 1), Guidelines for Training and Qualification of Engineering Support Personnel, December 1994.

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Training programs use EPRI publications/guides

A large number of the Electric Power Research Institute Nuclear Maintenance Application Center (EPRI/NMAC) products are designed to be used in training programs. For example, some utilities use a CD-ROM version of NMAC Technical Repair Guides (TRG) for Limitorque operators, which is presently in the testing phase. Ft. Calhoun nuclear station estimates it saved $100,000 by using NMAC MOVs, AOVs and lubrication publications. The Brunswick nuclear station reports saving $50,000 by using NMAC Limitorque guides.

In addition, the Human Performance Technology section of EPRI`s Nuclear Power Group has developed a Guide for Maintenance Proficiency Evaluation (MPE) and a PC-based MOV Limitorque troubleshooting training module. The MPE guide provides a method by which plant and contractor personnel can be tested to determine if they have the required knowledge and skills. Passing test scores provide a basis for exempting workers from further training. Both of these products have proved to be extremely popular with U.S. utilities.

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