Changing Demographics: Preserving Safety and Increasing Performance

  • Type:
    Conference Presentation
  • Conference Type:
    AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety
  • Presentation Date:
    April 28, 2015
  • Duration:
    30 minutes
  • Skill Level:
  • PDHs:

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While process plants under development hold promise for innovative technology, movement from analogue to digital control rooms, and the latest in automation features, little attention has been given to the shifting demographics of future operators.  This discussion addresses the safety considerations relative to people in new systems.  It is well-recognized that the need for energy, new and upgraded plants, and operator demographics are of concern worldwide.

The operators of today are aging.  Worldwide the entire workforce is aging.  The pool of persons for start-up endeavors is shrinking.  The data show that largely the workforce for new plants will be the young workers and older workers.  For the most part middle-aged workers are not among the likely candidates.  The petroleum industry calls this phenomenon the "big crew change".  The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) in 2005 predicted an "age crisis on the horizon" in light of the fact that at that time the average age of SPE members was 45 years old. 

What is the impact of aging on worker health and safety?  Addressing these effects means looking at the physical, psychosocial and cognitive issues related to aging.  Society cannot continue to run business as usual.  This presentation addresses the concerns of a changing and an aging workforce.  The industry as the design of new plants occurs must accommodate shifting demographics of operators and maintainers and an aging workforce.

It is known that human cognitive and physical capabilities change with age.  Little research relative to aging has taken place outside of the experimental laboratory environment.  The data relevant to operations is scarce.  Nonetheless quite a bit is known about older workers and how to accommodate them.  The focus is on those issues of change and accommodation.

Topics such as physical changes, cognitive changes, the impact of shift work, learning and training abilities and technological innovations are discussed.  Recommendations are provided relative to how best to design these plants to retain and recruit older workers while recognizing the value of younger workers and ensuring that safety is preserved and the possibilities of human error are eliminated regardless of age, demographic, gender, or ethnic background.

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