Communication in the Workplace: It Could Save Your Life

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A plant environment can be a very hazardous place to work. Scalding hot pipes, moving parts, high voltage wires, and falling hazards can make a power plant a very dangerous place to work without proper precautions. I was able to speak with William Bennett, who is an electrical engineer working in the power generation industry, about what role communication plays in plant operation and safety.

Gas fired plants, like the one pictured here and Union Power Plant, provide power to their customers while having lower emissions than coal fired plants.

About Will Bennet

Will is a Louisiana Tech alum and earned his Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical Engineering in 2010. He is a production technician that operates and maintains the Union Power Plant in El Dorado, Arkansas. This natural gas fired power plant is the largest combined cycle plant owned by Entergy. Will’s responsibilities include maintaining safe operation, maintaining compliance with regulation of various operating parameters, and maintaining effective communication with Controlling Authorities.

Communication’s Role in the Plant

Will describes technical communication in a plant environment as of the utmost importance. He has to communicate with multiple entities within the plant daily, such as Dispatching, Transmission/Distribution, Technical Support, Planning/Scheduling, Engineering Compliance Manager, Environmental, Safety, and Plant Manager. Will described one major form of communication used within the plant that ensures worker safety and increases the effectiveness of communications: the Three-way Communication Procedure. In three-way communication, the sender states the message to the receiver. Next, the receiver acknowledges the communication by repeating the message to the sender. The receiver must restate any critical information exactly as it was stated by the sender. If the receiver does not understand the sender’s message, they must ask for clarification. Finally, the sender acknowledges the receivers reply and verbally confirms to the receiver that the message is correct and properly understood. Then the receiver can perform whatever action is being requested. If the sender does not understand the receivers reply, the sender must verbally indicate the two do not understand each other, and then the repeat-back process must start back from the beginning.

Communication’s Effect on Safety

A power generation plant can be a very hazardous work environment. Will describes communication as “very” important to the safety of plant workers. He says, “The Three-way Communication procedure is used so that both parties have a clear understanding of the request/action being taken”. If a miscommunication were to occur, people could be injured or killed. Will says, “If there was a breakdown in communication it could possibly lead to a catastrophic event”.

Technological Advances in Communication

Will pointed to several ways that technology has improved communication in the work place. He mentioned radio, phones, email, logbooks, and documents for reporting (Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) as advances that have led to more efficient communication. When asked how technology has contributed to worker safety, Will said, “I think the two biggest contributions are speed of communication and the formalization of technology uses for a communication standard”. He went on to say that, “the increased speed of communication now allows for a response to a certain condition to be carried out to reduce the effects of or prevent incidents. As for the formalization, there have been tools and guidelines that have been put in place to ensure clear roles and standards will be upheld to minimize the potential for incidents to occur, such as the Three-way Communication Protocol”.

Effective technical communication plays an essential role in any workplace. A breakdown in communication might lead to the loss of a client, drop in sales, or the loss of your job. For Will, though, a breakdown in communication could lead to the loss of life or limb.

 

Jacob Hogue, guest blogger

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