The 87th General Meeting Speaker Presentation
"Communication as a Key to Safety"
The following presentation was delivered at the 87th General Meeting Monday General Session, May 7, 2018. It has been edited for content and phrasing.
INTRODUCTION: Chris Cantrell is the director of safety and chief boiler inspector for the state of Nebraska. He is also the first vice chairman of the National Board Board of Trustees. He is a veteran of the United States Navy where he served as a nuclear machinist’s mate. His civilian career began as a boiler inspector for Hartford Steam Boiler and in 2007, he became the chief of Nebraska. Mr. Cantrell holds the National Board Inservice and New Construction commissions, and he has the B and R endorsements.
Mr. Cantrell's slide presentation can be accessed here.
MR. CANTRELL: We will be talking a little bit about communication, what communication is, a little bit of the communication fundamentals, communication cycle, communication for inspectors, and then some examples.
What is communication? I believe Merriam Webster says that it's a process by which information is exchanged between individuals using a common system of symbols, signs or behavior.
Types of communication: Verbal, words and language, written and spoken, to convey a message or idea. We have nonverbal. Sometimes it's the way we carry ourselves, it's the body language. And that also goes into the visual type of communication.
I know this is a lot of basic information for everybody, but it goes into trying to let people know how important these things are. If you are aware of the different types of communications, then you can go ahead and craft your message. Craft the way you walk. If I'm sitting here talking like this or slumped over, it affects how my message is perceived. It affects how your message is perceived.
The communication cycle—what we have is a speaker, me. We have an audience, you. And I am trying to convey that message using a common system to you. So I'm going to send you this message. I'm the sender. Now, I have to encode a message that you are going to understand.
One of the ways I encode that message is to ensure that I understand who my audience is. I'd talk to a group of people who are involved in the boiler and pressure vessel industry a lot different than I would talk to my children, my spouse or anyone else. So I encode my message in a way that I think will be best received by my audience.
How many Navy nukes do we have here? We are some of the smartest dumb people you will ever meet, right? We always know exactly what we are talking about, but we might not always be able to communicate that to other people, because we encode messages that we understand, and then make you try and understand them.
We encode that message hopefully in a way that our audience will understand, and we send that to our audience.
Then they receive it. They have to actively listen to what we are saying. They have to be able to understand it. They have to be able to decode it. Understanding is decoding the message.
So they decode it, and then they have to give you feedback. If it's a two-way communication, they will sit there and tell you that I'm going to encode my response in a way that this person who just sent me this message will understand. Then they develop their response and send it back to us.
Hopefully, if everything is right, we now have that common system. We have been able to encode a message, send it, someone has been able to decode it, respond to it, and everybody is happy, right?
So if I say, “Hey, I'm done after this slide, let's go get a beer.” There we go, right? It didn't take long to understand that. If I say to certain people, “Hey, this is America's team that's from this town.” Some people who don't like the Cowboys might not understand that message. It's not encoded in a way that they can look at. We talked a little bit about this already, encoding, how you can create that message and share it so it will be received as you want it to be received. Again, know your audience.
And that's when it really becomes important as an inspector, as a chief, or as an insurance person, to really know who you are talking to. Are you going to go into a power plant and talk to their chief engineer the same way you would go into a school and talk with the janitor who is operating that boiler? They are both boiler operators, but there is a different level of understanding.
As inspectors, regulators and insurers, we have to understand that when we have a message that's received and understood, it results in a safer workplace or a safer boiler. You have to know your audience and be able to encode a message they will understand.
If I'm talking to Phil out there in the audience, and he's talking on and on and on about the Giants or something like that, if I tune him out and don't listen to him, then I am never going to hear his message. For us to be able to be good communicators, we have to actively listen.
When we are hearing that message, we have to process it. We are not already thinking of our response to that message while someone else is talking. We are actively listening so we can process it and find out what they truly want and truly need—or in our cases as safety professionals, what people might be truly scared of. If we are talking about one thing, and the topic keeps going back to the low-water cutoff, and we talk about something else, and the topic keeps being brought back by your customer to the low-water cutoff, guess what he's scared of. Guess what he doesn't trust. You have to actively listen to that.
There are barriers to communication, some organizational, policies and rules. I'm a review team leader, so we have certain policies. We are required to communicate certain things. We have a due process policy. We are required to communicate that we have confidentiality. Those are things that our organization, ASME, or the National Board accreditation department tells us that we have to say.
There are also things they tell us we can't say. If I got up here and started talking about a specific manufacturer, Dave Douin would come across this room in two seconds and smack me. We don't talk positive or negative about manufacturers. But that's an organizational barrier.
Psychological barrier. As a chief inspector, if I walk in, I have my badge. I'm six five, 240, and I am talking to people, just me walking in the room like that with that kind of presence can be intimidating. Maybe not in Texas, but in Nebraska it can be intimidating. And I have to understand that and maybe be able to adjust the way I either enter the room or talk to the room if I'm trying to get good communication with this person.
If we give people too much information, if they are scared, those are all other barriers to communication.
Physical communication barriers. If the ambient noise in here is really loud, if there is dust or dirt or anything else—if I stand too close to you. If I come up and stand about this far away from your face and start talking, first off, you are not going to listen to a word I'm saying. All you are going to be thinking about is what is this guy doing and let me get out of here.
So again, knowing those things help you craft your message, and your message is not just what you are saying, but also where you are saying it, how you are saying it, and who you are saying it to.
Mechanical barriers to communication. If our system fell down or stopped working right now, then I would have to just talk a little bit louder, right? We would have to overcome those mechanical barriers, like the phone line being down.
Lack of trust on perception. If you perceive that I have no clue of what I'm talking about, you are not going to listen to me. My message will be lost on you.
For inspectors, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a really good series on how safety talks are to happen, and the first two things they talk about are being interactive and informative. To be interactive and informative, you have to have two-way communication. You can't interact with someone without hearing back from them.
If you are talking with the owner or the owner's representative when you get on a site, try to gain an understanding of where they are coming from, what the history of the unit has been, and understand their level of knowledge. Try and gain that before you begin throwing technical phrases at them or before you begin talking to them like they’re a janitor.
If you talk to a guy with a Ph.D. in Engineering and start trying to give him basics on heat transfer or something like that, you are going to lose him. He's not going to listen to a thing you say because you have just insulted him.
Ask about the history of the pressure-retaining item. Ask the person you talk to if they understand your directions or what you are asking them. And then explain the inspection process, your restrictions.
How many insurance companies in here let their inspectors operate the equipment? So you might want to explain that to the people you are talking to that you can't do this stuff, and you are going to rely on them to do it. If you want to see the janitor at that school turn white as a sheet and start getting sick to his stomach, tell him, “Hey, I'm going to be having you test all this stuff.”
And then he's going to go and get that poster on the wall that has the local repair company, and he's just going to say, “Let me call this guy.” That's what you hope he does, right? You don't want to put people in uncomfortable or dangerous situations.
So you ask that, and you also explain what might happen. Hey, what we are going to do is test this low-water cutoff. If we are going to do a slow drain of the boiler to actually test it, we are going to have someone over here, and we are going to be by the emergency shut-off switch.
But if we are going to test the safety valve, that safety valve is going to pop and make a lot of noise if we bring it up to pressure and do a full pressure test. I forgot to do that one time. An 80-year-old guy let me in, the janitor. I said, “Hey, we are going to test this safety valve, and I'm with the state, I can do all this stuff.” This was a long time ago. And I knew exactly what was going to happen. That safety valve was going to pop, we were going to get a bunch of steam in the room, and it was going to be great, fine and dandy. That safety valve popped. I looked around. There was a trail of smoke from that guy running out of the room, a guy that needed a walker to get in the room. But I didn't tell him what was going to go on. So explain it, and ask if there are questions.
And this also helps you build trust with the people you are interacting with. And trust is huge. Because once they begin to trust you as the insurance guy, the deputy inspector, or the chief inspector, they will open up with you a little bit more and tell you what's been going on. It's just good to have.
So positive and productive. The chief inspector in Nebraska before I came on was an old, salty BT chief. Have we got any old, salty BT chiefs out here? I'm sorry I didn't mean to take anything away from Senior Chief Burns. But he was a "my way or the highway," a gruff and grumbly kind of guy.
I have been a little bit different. I think you catch more flies with honey. I wanted people to call our office and let us know what their problems were. So I began being very positive with people, trying to establish a rapport, and making sure that people understood that I'm not out to get them. I'm out to help them.
I'm out to help save them. You guys are out there to help save yourselves and them money, property, lost time, and save lives. Those are the things that we are trying to do. That's why we are in this industry.
So if we can communicate that and begin to open up these pathways of communication through how we talk to people, how we listen to people, how we understand people, and how we help them, hopefully they will realize that we are not the Big Bad Wolf there to shut them down. We are not Goldilocks either or Little Red Riding Hood, but we are there to help each other. That's what all this communication is for, to help each other, help understand each other, and hopefully to build that relationship.
We have fifteen minutes a year in a place, sometimes two hours a year in a place to be able to look at this stuff. Those guys and ladies are in there all the time, so we need to build trust and a rapport with them in order for us to increase safety.
Now, one of the things we don't want to do as inspectors is ask a lot of yes/no questions. Tony, do you test your low-water cutoff? Yes, of course I do. Right? So let's see. Does he test his low-water cutoff? That bottom valve is open in that thing. That drain valve is open.
What would be a better question? Hey, Tony, how do you test your low-water cutoff? How do you do that?
Here is a better question than that. How have you been blowing it down? Well, I haven't really been blowing it down. There is the water sensing line to it. This is one of the things I ran into in Nebraska.
Again, avoid the yes/no question. How many times have you had to use the manual reset on your aux low-water cutoff? Do you know where it is?
This is the control panel on this particular boiler. It might have gotten just a little bit hot in there at some point. It might have gotten hot a little bit outside of there too. Anyone know the melting point of SA-106-B? It's like twenty-six hundred to twenty-eight hundred degrees, something like that.
So the problems weren't brought up before I got the call. This boiler was inspected two or three weeks before this actually happened. There is the probe wire from the low-water cutoff probe, the manual reset. We are just going to twist those together down here.
So when I'm asking the questions, “How often have you been blowing it down?”
“Every day, every day, religiously.”
“So every day, religiously? Let me go back here. Have you ever had to push the low-water cutoff -- aux low-water cutoff reset button?”
“No, never have.”
The reason they never pushed it is because they pushed it in and then tried to duct-tape it down because they got tired of walking out to the boiler and hitting the low-water cutoff reset. So they finally did this to keep themselves from having to walk out there. Well, guess what? They don't have to walk out there anymore. There is not a boiler there anymore.
So communicating a little bit, asking the right questions, all that good stuff, makes a difference.
Have you had to replenish the chemicals in your boiler, and has that changed over time?
Do you think they've had to put new chemicals in their boiler at any point? Because they all go straight from the inside to the outside. Has this changed over time? Yeah. They told me on this one. Yeah, we've increased the use of our chemicals, but we have noticed that we are getting a lot of condensation out of the bottom of the boiler.
Condensation? That is condensation, right?
Then here is your quiz. A 350-liter vessel operates at 600 MPa. Is that low pressure or high pressure? Does anyone know what 600 MPa equates to? Canadians, you guys are on the metric system. All right. Well, no one did in Nebraska either. They called that an exempt vessel. We exempt everything five cubic feet in volume or less or 250 psi or less.
We also require everything to be printed in U.S. customary units, data reports, data plates, everything. This one had a Division III stamp on it, and was stamped 600 MPa on it.
He said, “That's less than five cubic feet and that's also less than 250 psi.” So he doesn't know what a liter is, and he doesn't know what an MPa is. So 600 MPa is about 88,000 pounds per square inch, and 350 liters is about, I think twelve and a half cubic feet. So we didn't know that this existed until we saw it on the news.
But anyway, we try to legislate the written communication—this is what we want on the tag and this and that. But I can tell you, if the legislation is written and put online and no one is there to read it, it doesn't make a sound. Well, I guess it does.
So there were three guys that worked here. None of them were really hurt, but a forklift was carried a hundred feet across by a 50,000-pound chunk of metal that blew out of the end of this. The guy that would have normally operated that forklift was not doing so that day. He took three days off after that because he didn't know if he wanted to go sit on a forklift near the other four machines like the one in the accident.
So to summarize, communicate regularly with your stakeholders, whether it is power plant owners, restaurant owners, or your inspectors, communicate regularly with anyone who is involved with the safety of boilers and pressure vessels in your state.
Be open and honest. Just like on any quiz or anything else, don't try and BS your way through an answer. If you don't know the answer to something that one of your stakeholders is asking you, I can almost guarantee there's someone at The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors that can answer that question for you. So call in.
Create that trust with your stakeholders, with the people in your jurisdiction, the people you have insurance contracts with. Because what we want is two-way communication not only when we are on site, but at those times in the year when they see something going wrong. We were talking about carbon monoxide earlier. When these guys see something going wrong, they should be able to call in and trust us to make the right decision, a decision that they know may not benefit us financially, but it's a decision that will be honest and that will be based on trying to make it as safe as possible.
Actively listen when they are talking to you. Don't be thinking about the next thing. Listen to them, understand what their needs are, what their fears are, and help them out with those.
And then you will have a safer environment in your state and with your clientele afterwards.