CEPA member company control rooms are the brains of every pipeline system. That’s why, during the COVID-19 pandemic, pipeline companies are taking extraordinary measures to keep essential pipeline workers, like control room operators, and their families, safe from infection.
Each CEPA member has at least one control room. Busy, highly focused and fast-paced professional environments, these are sophisticated facilities where operators monitor pipelines 24/7. They use state-of-the-art computer systems (similar to air traffic control systems) to recognize and respond quickly to any unexplained changes to the flow or pressure in a pipeline. Within the control rooms, walls of carefully laid-out digital displays let everyone know what’s going on.
Control room operators are known to form tight-knit work groups. So, social distancing can be difficult.
This week, in recognition of North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week, we focus on measures the pipeline industry is taking to keep pipeline control room operators safe during the pandemic.
Because control rooms are the brains of pipeline operations, it’s critical to have back-up locations so energy can continue flowing in a crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, pipeline companies are using those back-up locations to separate workers on different shifts. So, each shift team works from a different location, which limits their contacts with other operators.
Control room operators usually work three 12-hour shifts and have two days off in between. That’s changed to limit the number of exposures during the pandemic. Operators now work five 12-hour shifts and have four days off in between.
After every shift, a cleaning crew moves into the control room to sanitize every surface… down to every single pen, coffee pot, doorknob, drawer handle, light switch… even the adjustment levers for chairs. They thoroughly clean anything control operators are likely to touch.
In addition to cleaning, some companies use UVC lights which can disinfect surfaces in the control rooms once they’re vacated. So, after controllers leave the shift and the cleaners finish up, these special lights can further sanitize the entire space.
Some pipeline companies are taking the extra step of relocating work consoles to meeting rooms outside the actual control room. This allows operators to work independently in that space while on shift, but they can still view the large screens in the centre. Intercoms in every room allow for continuous communication. If a technical problem requires an outside technician to be in the area, that person works separately in a partitioned ‘isolation bubble’.
Control room operators have agreed to a range of protocols, including self-isolating at home with their families when at home from work. They receive groceries and other food deliveries with no face-to-face contact. Protocols include wearing freshly laundered clothing for every shift, and a final level of cleaning to their equipment when they arrive at their workstations.
CEPA members all stress the importance of helping teams understand why some measures are necessary – especially those that reach outside the workplace. Even if one person fails to follow the protocols, he or she can compromise the whole team. And some operators have the added challenge of persuading family members to follow the same protocols.
The result is worth the effort. Operators can safely go home to their families And, we can all continue having reliable energy supply to keep us safe.
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