A pet peeve of mine is having a person in a position of authority telling you what to do in a certain situation when they have never actually experienced the situation you are in or the problem you are encountering. Typically, this comes from having to do something in the field or follow a specific field procedure simply because the State regulator or agency says you need to do it. Sometimes this may come from a desk jockey who has never actually performed the work you are doing and who only has theoretical experience, as opposed to actual practical experience. And sometimes this comes from following a work plan or sampling and analysis plan that may sound good on paper, but when applied in the real world is about as dumb as a bag of hammers.
Work plan vomit: ?work plans that are as detailed as a Chilton?s Auto Repair Manual, where every single thing possible is explained and detailed, so that field techs don?t have to even think when doing their work in the field. That?s the theory behind detailed work plans: to make it easy for the field tech to do his job because all he has to do is consult the work plan. But it doesn?t work that way in the real world. Instead, it complicates things for the person it was intended to help.
To prove this point, I have listed excerpts of two separate tasks I found in a work plan for a real project:
Two Examples of Work Plan Vomit
Example 1 – Well Development Procedures
After a minimum of 48 hours following well installation, each MW will be developed. Well development will be accomplished using a surge block. Development will include constant rate pumping after several cycles of surging. These periods of surging and evacuation will flush the aquifer in the near vicinity of the wells. Pumping of the well will continue until stabilization criteria have been met, 10 well volumes have been removed, or the well is dry. The deep bedrock well will require a submersible pump for development and a weighted bottom discharge bailer (sand bailer) for removal of sediment. When the submersible pump is used, water will be removed throughout the water column by periodically raising and lowering the pump intake. Development water will be containerized and stored on site pending laboratory analysis.
During development, various water quality parameters will be measured. These parameters will consist of pH, temperature, conductivity, and turbidity. Adequate development consists of meeting the various measurable criteria as outlined below:
- Minimum removal of three times the standing volume in the well casing plus saturated annulus, pending well recharge rate.
- Removal of equal volume of any water added during well installation.
- Sediment thickness remaining in the well of less than 1 percent of the screen length (0.1 foot for screens 10 feet long).
- Measured water quality parameters stabilization. Stabilization is reached after all parameters are stabilized for three successive readings. Three successive readings should be within +/- 0.1 for pH, +/- or minus 1 degrees Celsius (?C) for temperature, plus or minus 3% for conductivity, and plus or minus 10% for turbidity.
Example 2 – Sample Label Format
Characters 1 2 3 4 5 ??? Horizontal Locator: Five-character code is the sampling location.?For example, the horizontal locator for a well designated MW-4 would be MW004; MW-101 would be MW101.?The horizontal locator for soil samples SB-1 would be SB001; HA-50 would be HA050.
Character 6 ?????????????????? Matrix Indicator:?See applicable Matrix indicators below.
Characters 7 8 9 ????????? Depth, Interval, Serial No.
Soil:?This three-character code corresponds to the lowest depth of sampling interval. For example, the vertical locator for a soil sample collected from 8 to 10 feet below grade would be 010.
Groundwater: Groundwater samples collected as part of a groundwater sampling event will use the three-character code to identify the sampling event number.?For example, the fourth quarterly groundwater sampling event would be identified as 004.
Characters 10 11 12 ??? Site/Area where sample was collected. This is optional but may be helpful when multiple samples are collected from different areas.
The matrix indicator is the sixth character of the 12-character sample ID scheme. The following defines the characters to be used for this field.
S ????? ? soil
C ????? ? soil duplicate sample
G ???? ? groundwater
H ????? ? groundwater duplicate
Z ????? ? liquid waste (including IDW)
V ???? ? solid waste (including IDW)
Field Duplicate Samples
Field duplicates will use the same sample ID as the parent sample. The differentiator will be the sixth character, which will indicate the type of duplicate and will be obtained using the matrix indicator codes above.?For example, a groundwater duplicate of MW004G001 would be identified as MW004H001. A soil duplicate of SB005S002 would be indicated using SB005C002.
Field QC Blanks
Field QC blanks will be populated using the same 12-character ID system. The first two characters will correspond to the type of blank, followed by a number corresponding to the sequential number of the blank on the CoC form. The sequential number is important when more than one blank is entered on a single CoC form. If only one blank is collected for a given CoC form, use the numeral. The remaining six characters will be populated with a blank collection date. The following lists applicable field QC blank codes:
EB1 ??=??? equipment blank
TB1 ??=??? trip blank
Sample ID Examples:
SB025S000 represents a soil boring sample at 0 to 6 inches bgs from soil boring #25.
SB032S001 represents a soil boring sample at 6 to 12 inches bgs from soil boring #32.
MW004G002 ?represents the second groundwater sample collected from monitoring well #4.
TB1061211 ?represents the first trip blank submitted on June 12, 2011.
TB2061211 represents the second trip blank submitted on June 12, 2011.
EB1061211 represents an equipment blank collected on June 12, 2011.
No Battle Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy
Sure, the work plan tasks outlined above may sound good on paper, in an office setting. But when applying detailed procedures in the field, where conditions may not be conducive to working, equipment malfunctions occasionally, the proposed type of equipment may not adequately perform the job as intended, and the sheer amount of moving parts complicates things, something will undoubtedly go wrong. And when you are out in the field doing multiple tasks, the last thing you really need is a 1-inch thick plan telling you how to do your job in exacting proportions, simply because someone put it in a stupid plan and says you need to follow it.
As with battle plans not surviving contact with the enemy, environmental work plans rarely survive application in the field without some sort of variance. Hell, the actual physical work plan pages may not even survive the work truck cabin?s environment, which is typically full of loose items, clipboards, sampling gear and supplies, Ziploc baggies, gloves, mud, dirt, empty Doritos bags and Gatorade bottles, and who knows what else. Sometimes trying to locate the work plan and then thumbing through the 200 wrinkled pages to find the three pages that explain how to fill out a label for a matrix spike duplicate sample is a challenge in itself.
What Is the Real Purpose of the Intended Work?
When you boil it down to the basics, all we are really seeking, as environmental scientists, is to collect and analyze data that will be as representative as possible of natural conditions, in a practical, timely, and cost-effective way. If that statement is true, then does a specific sample ID naming convention as stringent and long-winded as the one listed above really matter? Will it actually help the end user understand where the samples came from without having to consult the same document that explains what the heck that format means? What if the naming convention is so complicated that the field tech makes mistakes on the sample labels and chain of custody forms? Isn?t that counter-productive at that point? Having to explain the incorrectly labeled samples?
Do we really need to take stabilization criteria from a well during well development? Sure, this is typically done for low flow sampling, but for well development??? Isn?t the purpose of well development to mainly remove the sediment in the well so that conditions in the well can be as representative as possible for sampling at a later date without matrix interference? How will that happen if you are pumping water so slowly out of the well (so as to meet stabilization criteria) that none of the sediment goes into suspension, so that it can be pumped out of the well?
Plans Should Be Flexible and Be Used As Guides, Not As the Final Authority
So why complicate things with detailed, onerous, inflexible plans? Why not instead write simple plans, ones that can be used in the field more as guides instead of as gospel? The information should be easy to find, as concise as possible, and offer flexibility that allows the field technician to handle the work in a flexible manner under field conditions that may dictate certain things as not being possible.
Avoid Workplace Vomit By Sending Plan Writers Into the Field
People in office settings who write detailed work plans should stop writing work plan vomit and instead be required to conduct field work prior to writing plans. If your organization already does this (plans written only by field-experienced personnel), then it?s likely that that battle-tested person writing the plan has now succumbed to the same things that plague everyone else in the office and needs to get sent back out in the field again to correct their work plan vomit behavior. It?s amazing how much knowledge can be gained by conducting field work and being there to see it in person.
Even those of us that have been there sometimes need to be sent back to the field again so that we remember what it was like. It?s easy to explain to the field tech how to sample a well for volatile organics with a peristaltic pump from the comforts of your air-conditioned room while sipping on a latt?. But try to do that in 112 degree weather, with blazing sun on your back, hot dusty air being blown into your face, sweat pouring down your forehead, while trying to carefully and slowly pour water from the discharge tubing into a 40 ml vial sitting on top of the back of a manhole cover that is in direct sunlight and not quite on flat ground. Try doing that while maintaining the 40 ml vial at a cool temperature, with no bubbles in the headspace, and keeping the tubing from touching the surrounding soils or mud-covered plastic sheeting.
Less Is More
Instead of writing 1-inch thick detailed work plans that leave no room for thinking, use the ?less is more? approach.?Less verbiage = more flexibility. Not only will this mean less busy work for the office staff, it will also make things easier on the field techs. It means that the field techs can apply their own knowledge and experience in the field as appropriate for the field conditions encountered instead of following some dumb cookbook approach. And isn?t that why you hired that field tech anyway? ?To think in the field when things don?t go as planned? Because nothing in the field ever goes exactly as planned. And the more complex and detailed the work plan, the more likely that something will deviate from that plan.