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Commissioning: Operations Personnel Training

Training is the last of the three commissioning fundamentals: DOCUMENTATION, TESTING, and TRAINING. Operations and maintenance (O&M) personnel training is typically a specified responsibility of the contractors installing new or modified equipment. However, the follow-through and delivery of that training has historically been haphazard at best and nearly non-existent in the worst cases.

Although training is part of the construction documents, its enforcement is often lax, and its implementation is sometimes only realized after the owner's O&M department insists on it. Even then, the inclination is to complete it quickly, often resulting in a tour of the facility with whatever O&M staff are available on short notice. The "training" then consists of pointing out various pieces of equipment and asking if anyone has questions. There is often very little in the way of formal instruction with regards to preventative maintenance or techniques for troubleshooting

Furthermore, the practice of providing training for individual pieces or types of equipment, e.g., pumps, fans, humidifiers, emergency generators, smoke detectors, etc., addresses only a portion of the education the O&M staff needs in order to understand the new SYSTEMS they are going to be responsible for operating. Although some experienced O&M departments may not need much more than a refresher course for specific pieces of equipment, each building represents a unique system of many pieces of equipment. The O&M staff will not have seen anything exactly like it before, and, as such, they will need intensive systems training to learn about how all of the equipment is integrated to work together.

Part of this systems training is an introduction to the designers' reasons for designing the systems the way they did and what the limitations of the systems may be. This is laid out in the Design Intent Document (see the "Getting it Right” column in ES, February, 1998), and it is absolutely critical that the O&M personnel understand the D.I.D. and "buy into it." The people operating the systems must understand the design and believe in it in order for the building to function as intended once they take over.

Training, as a part of the commissioning process, is best conducted in three separate stages:

  1. Component Training

This is the individual equipment training typically specified to be performed by the contractors. Commissioning brings order and respect to this part of the contractors' responsibilities. The commissioning consultant can require, as part of the commissioning specification, that the contractors prepare training plans including agendas, the qualifications of the people providing the training, and the length of time required to complete a training session. Training plans for each technical specification section should be submitted well before the end of construction so that an organized, well-attended series of training sessions can be scheduled with the O&M staff.

  1. Systems Training

Systems training is often conducted by the commissioning consultant and, whenever possible, will include the design engineers to describe and answer questions regarding the design intent. The systems training should be after component training and should integrate all of the pieces of equipment into a coherent "system" in the minds of the operators.

  1. Witnessing Tests

After having the system operation described in a formal classroom setting, the O&M personnel should witness and participate in the actual verification testing orchestrated by the commissioning consultant. This hands-on, visual, real-world learning experience will help to bring the classroom lessons to life and make them easier to remember. It is also another opportunity for the commissioning consultant to talk about the systems and answer questions.

The goal of training is to achieve properly operating building systems after commissioning is complete and the owner's O&M staff is in control. As mentioned previously, O&M staff "buy in" is critical to achieving this goal. The best way to obtain that buy-in is to involve the O&M personnel in the planning and design process. Have them review, understand, and sign-off on the Design Intent Document before the designers get very far in developing the drawings and specifications. That way, when it comes time to provide systems training, it's a refresher course instead of a "surprise." An unpleasantly surprised operations staff will be less inclined to want to make the building systems work than a staff which has had input into what those systems are and what they do.


Commissioning: Getting It Right

Engineered Systems, June, 1998

Rebecca Ellis, PE, LEED AP, CCP, CxA
Questions & Solutions Engineering
1079 Falls Curve
Chaska, MN  55318