All of us depend on verbal communication for the exchange of information or instructions. Depending on the job, an individual may be responsible for transmitting or receiving information in the form of operating instructions, feedback on the results of operations, reports of operational data, or emergency warnings and instructions. Whether face-to-face or electronic communication, this information has to be transmitted and received; it has to be accurate and complete; most importantly, it has to be understood.
Formality in communication is especially important when personnel safety is involved or complex evolutions are performed.
Attributes – Verbal instructions should be:
- Clear – communications containing words with several meaning or similar sounding words should be avoided. The noise levels in most field locations in a power generation facility contribute to confusion. For example, one should use “raise” and “lower” rather than “increase” and “decrease” due to the possible misunderstanding of the latter pair. Proper equipment names and tag numbers should be used. For example, “Open Fuel Oil Transfer Pump Discharge Valve – Foxtrot Oscar one six” is much less prone to misinterpretation than saying “Open the big silver valve on the right of the pump house door”. A phonetic alphabet should be used to communicate alphanumeric information (such as tag numbers). A suggested phonetic alphabet can be found here.
- Concise – Operating instructions should be as brief as possible. The principle is to keep the message length at a minimum while still communicating the required information. Facility approved acronyms should be used to this end. The exception to this is during a public address system announcement of an Emergency Condition (fire, evacuation, etc.). Such announcements should be made with language understandable to new employees, contractors, and visitors so that they know what they are supposed to do.
- Correct – The transmitted message must be specific to ensure the correct unit or component (Alpha or Bravo, 1 or 2) is identified. Names and equipment tag numbers should be used together to ensure the message s properly received and understood.
In Part 2, I will discuss the format that should be used to ensure consistency and effectiveness.