2010 – Maintenance and Human Error – The Australian Dam Experience

Glen Hobbs, Robert Rigg, Alan Hobbs, Adam Butler

Maintenance errors and associated non-conformances are becoming increasingly recognised as a source of system failures in a wide range of industries. Research in other industries has shown that errors often arise in response to local factors beyond the control of the maintainer. Various dam ‘incidents’ have been attributed to maintenance errors. In Australia we have been fortunate with few serious dam safety events. However, the dam operating and maintenance environment is changing dramatically.
A survey of dam maintenance personnel was recently undertaken in Australia. The survey was in the form of 49 questions that asked participants to state how frequently a situation occurred. This survey format has previously been used in other industries; thus allowing a comparison of dam maintenance with other high-risk industries such as rail infrastructure, oil and gas, and airline maintenance.
A number of ‘error-producing’ conditions have been identified and survey results indicate a high level of poor procedures/documentation and supervision; highlighting the need for accurate and appropriate manuals and supervision of tasks. These and other factors are leading to instances of maintenance non-compliance, which may threaten the reliability and safety of equipment. The survey has revealed that trade training needs to be addressed. However, occupational safety issues are low; indicating a positive approach to a safe working environment. The paper also discusses the responses to specific maintenance questions relevant to the dam industry.

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