Introduction Conduct of Operations


Developing and sustaining high standards in the conduct of operations is one of nine elements in the RBPS pillar of managing risk. This chapter describes the concept of conduct of operations, the attributes of a reliable system for conducting operations, and the steps an organization might take to formalize the conduct of operations. Section 17.2 describes the key principles and essential features of a management system for this element. Section 17.3 lists work activities that support these essential features, and presents a range of approaches that might be appropriate for each work activity, depending on perceived risk, resources, and organizational culture. Sections 17.4 through 17.6 include (1) ideas for improving the effectiveness of management systems and specific programs that support this element, (2) metrics that could be used to monitor this element, and (3) issues that may be appropriate for management review.

What Is It?

Conduct of operations (operations) is the execution of operational and management tasks in a deliberate and structured manner. It is also sometimes called “operational discipline” or “formality of operations”, and it is closely tied to an organization’s culture. Conduct of operations institutionalizes the pursuit of excellence in the performance of every task and minimizes variations in performance. Workers at every level are expected to perform their duties with alertness, due thought, full knowledge, sound judgment, and a proper sense of pride and accountability (Refs. 17.2 and 17.3).

Why Is It Important?

A consistently high level of human performance is a critical aspect of any process safety program; indeed a less than adequate level of human performance will adversely impact all aspects of operations. As the
complexity of operational activities increases, a commensurate increase in the formality of operations must also occur to ensure safe, reliable, and consistent performance of critical tasks.

Where/When Is It Done?

Like culture, conduct of operations applies everywhere workers perform tasks – from the boardroom to the plant floor. It applies every time a worker performs a task throughout the life of a facility or an organization because it is an ongoing commitment to reliable operations.

Who Does It?

Conduct of operations applies to all work activities, not just those of the operations department. Thus all workers, employees, and contractors are included. Each work group should define the framework of controls necessary to ensure that tasks for which it is responsible are performed reliably. The manager of each work group is responsible for the conduct of operations in his group, but overall responsibility rests with the facility manager. The human resources group is often involved with the process because it includes fitness-for-duty, progressive discipline, salary, bonus, and retention decisions.

What Is the Anticipated Work Product?

The output of this activity is a policy describing the organization’s overall expectations for worker conduct and specific procedures and goals for implementing those policies. A defined framework of controls should be established that implements a defense-in-depth strategy to ensure that process operations remain within safe operating limits. A clear chain of command, defined authority, and accountability for reliable work performance in accordance with approved procedures and work practices should also be established. Outputs of the operations element can also be used to facilitate the performance of other elements. For example, monitoring equipment status will improve asset integrity, and near miss reports will enhance the effectiveness of the incidents element. The ultimate product is the execution of each worker’s tasks, from the boardroom to the shop floor, in a disciplined, consistent manner that safely delivers the goods and services required to meet the organization’s objectives.

How Is It Done?

To develop an effective operations program, an organization must start with an honest statement of its objectives and risk tolerance. Considering the outputs of other elements, the organization can then formulate an operations policy and document it, along with the implementing procedures. However, the program cannot be merely words on paper. Workers must be trained in the policies and procedures so that they understand the goals and expectations, the lines of authority, and their personal accountability. They must apply good reasoning and judgment (founded upon a sound process safety culture) in all situations, but particularly when action is required in situations not specifically addressed by policy or procedure. Beyond that, the most critical, ongoing requirement is that management lead by example. If a procedure instructs workers to shut down the process under defined emergency conditions, but management praises operators who “ride it out” and avoid a shutdown, then operational discipline will suffer. Operations tolerates no deviation from approved procedures, even if the outcome of a deviation is inconsequential or desirable. Thus, management must hold workers accountable for their actions in all circumstances to avoid the normalization of deviation.