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Operations & Maintenance

Optimizing Upstream Operations Shift Handover

If you want your company to stay out of the headlines, optimizing your shift handover process is a step in the right direction. Shift-to-shift handover involves making sure everyone is aligned on critical operating parameters, so that you can optimize factors like reliability, throughput and raw material optimization. It requires seamless communication and buttoned-up processes. Slip-ups during shift handover can amount to more than miscommunication – they can spell disaster for oil and gas companies, their employees and the communities they serve.

The Piper Alpha disaster that occurred in the North Sea in 1988 rocked the industry and paved the way for sweeping regulation and safety changes. After a condensate pump tripped, gas alarms activated, the first-stage gas compressors tripped and soon an explosion ripped through the platform. The subsequent series of triggered explosions took the lives of 167 men onboard. Inadequate shift handover and safety training procedures were linked to the disaster; according to investigators, operators kept a log but didn’t always record maintenance activities.

Consider the tragedy at a Houston-area DuPont plant in 2014. A breakdown in communication during shift handover caused a blocked pipe to leak toxic chemicals into the environment. According to the subsequent lawsuit – which ordered DuPont to pay a $12 million penalty, plus an additional $4 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – shift supervisors failed to provide sufficient instructions to the oncoming shift to safely clear the block in the pipe. Four employees lost their lives in the accident and several more were injured in the disaster, which could have been entirely avoided with proper shift handover and communication protocols in place.

An explosion at a Buncefield oil storage depot in 2005 was also traced back to insufficient shift handover communication. The largest explosion in the U.K. since World War II, the accident injured 43 people and caused significant damage to homes in the surrounding community. Investigators later discovered that the explosion was a result of severe shortcomings in shift handover protocols. The shift logbook was limited to documenting information related to a single pipeline and only recorded the plant status at the end of the shift, completely overlooking the events of the shift itself.

We can, and we should, learn from the past. By closely examining and understanding the common issues that occur during the shift handover process, oil and gas companies can invest in technologies to mitigate those challenges and prevent catastrophes like this from occurring in the future.

This article will explore the solutions that play a role in enhancing communication to ensure the collection and distribution of accurate data in the shift handover process. First, we’ll examine some of the key issues that arise during shift handover. Then, we’ll explore some of the technologies designed to mitigate these challenges and keep operations running smoothly and safely. 


Shift Handover: Common Challenges 

We’ve noticed three frequent issues contribute to inefficiencies in the shift handover process. These are:  

  • Gaps in communication. Incomplete or unclear communication can lead to misunderstandings and mistakes. For example, if an outgoing operator fails to mention that a pump is undergoing maintenance and shouldn't be activated, the incoming operator might unknowingly start the pump, potentially causing damage or safety hazards, like what occurred at Piper Alpha.

  • A lack of standardization in the shift handover process. This contributes to inconsistencies in the way information is conveyed and recorded. Without uniformity embedded in the shift handover, the likelihood of errors, oversights and confusion increases exponentially.

  • Analog documentation. Many companies still use paper-based logbooks, manual spreadsheets and disconnected databases to document process parameters and relay information. Analog documentation is inherently slower and less efficient than connected digital solutions, making it difficult to provide real-time updates and access to critical information. 

It should be noted that analog processes often contribute directly to communication gaps and the lack of standardization in documentation procedures. Digitalizing the shift handover process can ensure plant operators can rapidly and easily analyze the operating parameters that have been collected. Using these parameters, they can attempt to identify indications of failure earlier and reach the root of existing issues.  


Solutions for Streamlining Shift Handover 

By digitalizing the shift handover process, plant operators can ensure safety and efficacy remain at the forefront of daily operations. With digital platforms like j5 Shift Handover,  plant operators can achieve consistent and fully informed shift handovers to reduce the risk of hazardous incidents. Let’s take a closer look at some of the features and benefits j5 Shift Handover provides plant operators: 

  • j5 serves as a single data repository to eliminate paper, spreadsheets, scattered databases and disconnected applications. Enhancing access to real-time knowledge – all on a single pane of glass – empowers faster decision-making for safer, smarter operations.

  • j5 enables consistent formatting, structure and content entry. Armed with this capability, plant operators can establish consistent formatting, structure and content entry protocols to ensure that information is captured uniformly across every shift.

  • With every step clearly documented in j5, companies can ensure their compliance with policy regulations and safety procedures. Digital audit trails drive transparency and accountability. Moreover, j5 makes data accessible to all authorized users, reducing the risk of losing critical information to silos and keeping all relevant parties informed about current and historical events.

  • j5 integrates with PAS PlantState Integrity™, a comprehensive platform of solutions to manage alarms, boundaries, control loops and independent protection layers (IPLs). With access to process and event-related information and safety instrumented systems, alarm and event data can be analyzed to understand what the most frequent alarms are over a period of time. With analyses like these, incoming operators have full visibility into the challenges of the last shift and can act accordingly. Current safety system bypass information is also available in PlantState Integrity, which can be used to ensure the decisions made in upcoming shifts take into account the latest control system information.  



The shift to digital is crucial for shift handover operations. Digitalizing the shift handover process improves shift-to-shift communication, standardizes operations and improves access to crucial information through centralized data repositories. Not only can digitalization help enhance efficiency and accuracy in the shift handover process, but it can also greatly reduce the risk of hazardous incidents occurring. In an industry that champions safety and efficiency above all else, the question is not whether you can afford to integrate digital solutions in your shift handover process – the question is, can you afford not to? 

To learn more about j5 Shift Handover, PlantState Integrity and other mission-critical shift handover solutions, get in touch with Hexagon today