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Beyond Operations & Maintenance Training

We have spent a good part of this year’s Getting it Right column addressing the critical role training plays in a successful commissioning process (see April, May, June & July, 2002). Traditionally, this training has been focused on the people responsible for operating and maintaining the commissioned systems following construction completion and turnover to the owner. This month we are going to explore the importance of training the building occupants and users as well.

Training the O&M staff in the design intent for the building systems helps them understand what the systems are capable of and, conversely, what the systems can not be expected to do. This is important for them to know, but doesn’t really mean much when they are responding to a building occupant/user who is unhappy with some aspect of the building’s operation. For example, when an occupant complains about being hot when their space is 75F, they aren’t going to feel “served” if the response from the O&M staff is, “That may be the best you can expect, because the design engineers didn’t intend for the system to cool below 75F.” Similarly, if a research scientist loses the contents of an incubator during a power outage, they aren’t going to be made happy by the news that, “The building design did not include providing backup power to the laboratories.”

The O&M staff is the front line for dealing with unhappy “customers,” but they aren’t usually seen in a position of authority with respect to what those customers can and can not have. Therefore, they are compelled to do whatever it takes to meet the building occupants’ desires/demands, even if the original project decision makers didn’t anticipate or validate all those desires during the design and construction process. When decisions are made during the design phase that result in performance criteria that fall short of the occupants’ entire wish list, it is often the O&M staff’s dubious honor of being the messenger….and we know what can happen to the bearers of bad news.

This isn’t necessarily fair to the front line O&M staff, but, more importantly, it can set up a dynamic by which the building will be “tweaked” out of control. If the O&M personnel aren’t given “authoritative” backup to support their standing firm with respect to design criteria needing to be the same as operating criteria, they will most likely do whatever it takes to keep their customers happy. If this means making adjustments for one area at the expense of losing the originally intended-performance in other areas, this practice can cascade into a continuous series of responses to “trouble” calls and a building which no longer resembles its “commissioned” state.

Therefore, the concept of occupant/user training has a lot of merit when it comes to the commissioning goal of maintaining consistently excellent system performance throughout the life of the building. Occupant/user training should consist, at a minimum of design intent information; i.e., how can they expect the building to perform and why. In addition, for certain complex systems, it will be necessary to train the occupants/users on the aspects of the control system with which they will need to interact. Examples of this latter training would be lighting controls, thermostat adjustments, occupancy override buttons, fume hood operation, etc.

Although initial post-construction occupant/user meetings and building tours is one way to deliver the needed training, the nature of people and buildings is such that new people will be continuously introduced to every facility over the entire life of the building. Therefore, a facility information sheet or manual is necessary in order to communicate the requisite information to each new occupant and as a reference for all occupants. This document is easily prepared prior to building occupancy and should be easily revised and updated by the O&M group. If delivered as an integral part of the Employee Manual or accessible via a company Intranet site, it carries the authoritative weight needed by the O&M staff to do their job of maintaining the facility in its “as commissioned” (or better) condition.

 

COMMISSIONING: GETTING IT RIGHT

Engineered Systems, November, 2002

Rebecca Ellis, PE, LEED AP, CCP, CxA
President
Questions & Solutions Engineering
1079 Falls Curve
Chaska, MN  55318
rteesmag@QSEng.com