Anybody who has known me for any amount of time is well aware that I am a strong advocate of training at all levels. I've talked about training before in this space, and this month, I want to revisit the topic.
Training is important for a lot of reasons. Well-trained operators are key to the safe and cost-efficient operation of an ammonia refrigeration system. Training isn't anything new to our industry. Organizations such as the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) and the Refrigerating Engineers & Technicians Association (RETA) have been committed to ammonia refrigeration training for years. Most ammonia refrigeration contractors and equipment manufacturers have a long history of providing training for the industry. Many food processors and cold storage companies have developed their own in-house training programs. And, over the past 10 years or so, several community colleges and private training companies have developed training programs for operators.
As the young people would say today, "That's all good!" For the most part, I think these organizations and companies are doing an adequate job. But if you went to 25 different trainers and asked them what they think an operator should know, I'll bet you would get 25 different answers. They wouldn't be entirely different. Probably 85 percent to 90 percent of each answer would be the same. But, I think it is safe to say that you would find 10 percent to 15 percent of the course descriptions would be different. And that's where the problem is. We need some consistency. Our industry lacks a uniform approach to training -- guidelines that clearly state what ammonia refrigeration operators should know. Variations from trainer to trainer could make a huge difference in the decisions an operator may make on the job. When the ammonia refrigeration training community was smaller, this was less of a problem. But with the proliferation of new training options, it's a problem that needs to be addressed. I am happy to report to you that it is.
A few weeks ago, representatives from several food processing companies, cold storage facilities, educational and training institutions, and industry trade associations got together to begin addressing this problem. They came to the conclusion that a special industry task force should take on the job of developing ammonia refrigeration training guidelines for operators.
The group identified the purpose for the task force: Develop voluntary training guidelines for ammonia refrigeration operators to promote the safe, efficient and cost-effective operation of refrigeration systems and equipment.
They also defined the scope of work for the task force: Develop learning objectives and competencies for training ammonia refrigeration operators at multiple levels (from entry level through skilled/advanced).
And, they offered the following rationale for the proposed training guidelines:
- To establish a uniform approach to developing and delivering operator training that has industry-wide support.
- To enhance safety at plants by developing ammonia refrigeration training guidelines to diminish the risk of human error.
- To create a framework for operators to grow their skills by engaging them in a life-long career path.
- To build a foundation of knowledge for operators, providing them with the necessary guidelines to continuously improve the safety, productivity and efficiency of the refrigeration systems they operate.
- To establish unified guidelines for operator training by individual plants and training organizations.
- To provide individuals with training guidelines that will facilitate employers in evaluating operators' skills and knowledge.
The group also agreed to use a consensus process to develop the guidelines. The task force will consist of a broad representation from a range of constituencies. Active committee members and document reviewers are being sought from among large and small end users, operators, organizations and associations, educators and trainers (including contractors), manufacturers and general/public interest groups such as OSHA, EPA, code organizations and others.
I have heard it said before. We all want good operator training. But, we lack a broadly accepted definition of what "good" is. These guidelines will fill that void.
Developing operator training guidelines will be no small task. I suspect it won't always be easy. It could take a year and a half to complete. Or it could take longer. Either way, it's an important job and I, for one, am glad to see it happening. If you would like to know more about this project, contact the folks at IIAR or RETA. I'm sure they'll be glad to talk with you about it.