The safety tradition meets new training tools

Steve Zell seeks ways that technology can improve utility training.

Story Topics

Crew and Culture

OQ – Operator Qualifications – are the center of the natural gas training.

Before employees can perform any work on the natural gas delivery system, they must demonstrate knowledge and skills that guarantee their own on-the-job safety, as well as ensuring the safety of the entire system. Even experienced employees are required to requalify for the tasks they perform.

Each company develops its own OQ tests, based on regulatory guidelines. Senior Training Specialist Steve Zell spends a lot of time thinking about the best way to help support an employee’s understanding and abilities.

Some work tasks require employees to demonstrate the skills with hands-on exercises. But all tasks require written tests. And that’s where Zell introduced a new approach to testing.

In the past, a trainer administered a test to a group of employees who were given electronic clickers. The trainer would post a question on a screen, wait for the responses, and discuss the right answer at the end of each question.

Zell, who has extensive field, as well as training, expertise, thought BGE could implement a tool that would require less time of employees and trainers. A new system would allow employees to OQ at a time convenient to them, rather than in a group.

Today, Zell said, employees sign into the computerized Learning Management System and fill out the answers to a 10 to 20 question test. “They get three minutes per question, so they can look through their reference materials before answering, just as they are encouraged to do on the job.”

Zell, who joined BGE in 2018, previously worked for a sister utility for 39 years. He has seen the industry change in so many ways – including the opportunities computers created. “I’ve always had a passion for any kind of new technology. I try to understand it, and I like to get my hands on it.”

As the company adopts new regulations, new materials, and new engineering techniques, trainers frequently update both OQ testing and reference material. Zell is now working with the training team and the Information Technology group to move remaining paper documentation to electronic forms that can be modified and implemented more quickly.
Zell is glad that he moved to BGE and wishes he had joined the company earlier in his career.

“BGE has a very strong safety culture. They follow it consistently,” he said. For example, “They have what’s called a two-minute pause: At any critical point, take a two-minute pause to make sure everybody’s on the same page and no one’s missing anything.”

He also mentioned the “Energy Wheel,” a practice of starting every job with a discussion of the situation and awareness of any problems that could come up. Zell went on to say, “The people are great here. I’m still learning, and I like to think people are learning from me.”