In 2005, employees at our largest coal power plant (and the third largest in the country) used various, inconsistent means to request “Lockout Tagout” before working on equipment. “Lockout Tagout” is a process by which mechanics, electricians, and other maintenance employees ask the operating employees to remove energy sources from equipment to ensure their own safety and the safety of others. Once requested and approved, operating employees would then open breakers, close valves to remove pressure, and perform various other safety-related activities.
Given that this was (and is) an extremely important safety activity, perfect performance was expected.
Methods used to request Lockout Tagout at that time consisted of fax, phone calls, emails, and walk-in conversations. The operating group struggled to manage the variety of request methods because the fax machine was occasionally out of paper, employees failed to communicate at shift change, etc.
The root cause of the problem was that there was no single, consistent, and fail-safe method of requesting and logging Lockout Tagout. SharePoint was relatively new at the time and this application would serve as the first test of its functionality not only at the plant, but for the entire generating fleet.
We built a custom list exactly mirroring the paper form that employees currently used, even improving it somewhat to improve workflow. We also built views that gave the operating group better organized information, such as requests by unit, by work crew, by date/time, etc.
With no training needed - even though SharePoint was brand new to the employees – we successfully rolled the tool out by simply communicating the expectation and emailing a link to the list.
A part of the expectation was that no other method of requesting would be accepted other than those urgent/emergency requests that could not be avoided.
That old custom list is still in use today. At the time of this writing, more than 90,000 requests have moved through the system and the list was replicated across most generating stations in the company.
The total investment in developing the list was less than four hours. This case study is one of the best examples of tremendous return for a tiny investment and another instance where having a SharePoint-knowledgeable employee available for review of information processes paid off in a handsome way.
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