At the end of August, here at Dungeness B power station we will be safely shutting down one of our nuclear reactors for around three months. We call this a ‘statutory outage’. This isn’t unusual, it is simply routine maintenance that takes place on each of the station’s two reactors every three years and is a key part of the safe running and operation of a nuclear power plant. But while temporarily shutting down a reactor may be business as usual for us, there is nothing routine about the communications that go into planning and executing a meticulous £40 million maintenance programme.
Put simply, a statutory outage is when we shut down one of our reactors to do maintenance work that we otherwise can’t do when we are generating electricity. It’s a bit like an MOT for your car except that this work takes around three months to complete and requires an extra 1,000 temporary employees on top of the 750 we usually have on site.
Imagine your busiest time of year, and then imagine tripling your employee base with new, contracted staff that you need to communicate with. That’s an outage!
During this period, we undertake thousands of maintenance tasks safely and efficiently around the station. Once completed, we return the reactor to service and so we can continue to provide the UK with safe, reliable, low-carbon electricity.
“At Dungeness B, and across EDF Energy, the safety and wellbeing of our people is our top priority.”
At Dungeness B, and across EDF Energy, the safety and wellbeing of our people is our top priority. We start every meeting on site with a short safety discussion and highlight any risks that people may have to deal with as part of their working day. We believe all harm is preventable which is why one of our company ambitions is ‘Zero Harm’.
The communications effort starts a long way before the first bit of work starts, making sure teams are aligned on the overall plan so there is complete clarity on what needs to be done and who is going to do it.
There are roughly 7,000 tasks that we carry out throughout the maintenance programme and this year we will be focusing mainly on our gas systems and steam turbines.
Once the outage starts, we send out technical briefs every day about our progress, making them available to the whole team so that everyone has access to these important updates.
The best laid plans can change in an instant though. For example, a new issue may emerge that we need to quickly fix. This could require some additional training or for the full team to get together to discuss a repair strategy.
Within the first week the Station Director will get everyone together to instil the ‘Team Dungeness’ spirit and ensure everyone is working towards the same goal safely and effciently. It’s quite a skill but Ian Stewart, our Station Director, knows how to get the best out of us.
We also work closely with the community here on Romney Marsh so that local residents know when to expect extra workers arriving in the area and some extra traffic on the roads. We communicate regularly with the local community, through monthly newsletters, community meetings and press releases in the local papers, and we are very grateful for their support during this busy period. It is so important to us that the local community are supportive if we are to have a successful outage.
The 1,750 men and women working on site during the outage also provide a huge boost to the local economy. They stay at local hotels and B&B’s, eat in the restaurants on Romney Marsh and use local taxi firms. It is great to see that our investment in the power station also benefits the local community in this way.
Our employees and contract partners work incredibly hard during and we make sure we remind them how grateful we are for all their hard work and dedication throughout this very busy period.
Perhaps surprisingly, 90% of our outage communications is face-to-face and through our engagement campaigns, we are focused on a common goal. Every single day our outage teams are set to work by a team leader who can provide a safety update, let the team know our progress since their last shift and remind everyone of the priorities during their next shift.
The teams receive these briefs in the morning so they know our progress to date and, more importantly, the part they play in the overall process. For example, the scaffolders need to get a particular rig up and built. If they don’t do their bit then the mechanics can’t get in to change out the turbine blades. And then the painters can’t get in to paint. Before the scaffolders can go back in to take the scaffolding down and return that piece of plant to service.
There are dozens of maintenance teams interacting with each other like this during an outage.
“Within the first week the Station Director will get everyone together to instil the ‘Team Dungeness’ spirit and ensure everyone is working towards the same goal safely and efficiently. It’s quite a skill but Ian Stewart, our Station Director, knows how to get the best out of us.”
Relying heavily on line management can be daunting, but we have a very organised approach to it. We set up what is called our SCC organisation – or Station Control Centre. The SCC is in a designated building and its sole purpose is to oversee all planning and safe execution of the outage work programmes.
It is a 24/7 operation inside the SCC. The team know what is happening all across the site from minute to minute. We know exactly where each team is and what everyone is doing which is key to ensuring the outage runs safely and smoothly.
This year will be my fourth statutory outage and I’ve noticed that people recognise more and more the importance of effective communications during such big projects.
It’s great to see the whole of Team Dungeness working to support each other towards a common goal: to successfully and safely deliver our statutory outage so we can continue to provide enough electricity for more than 1.5 million UK homes.
Biography: Rebecca Cavanagh
Rebecca was a diverse recruit to EDF Energy, coming from an Event and Project Management background in the hospitality industry spanning 15 years. She is now the Communications Officer for Dungeness B Power Station, where she is committed to driving employee engagement and change via internal communication. Rebecca is striving to guide her colleagues to understand the benefit of internal communication.