Introduction to Operating Procedures


The RBPS element that ensures proper development, timely maintenance, and consistent use of operating procedures (procedures) is one of nine elements in the RBPS pillar of managing risk. Section 10.2 describes the key principles and essential features of a management system for this element. Section 10.3 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 10.4 through 10.6 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?

Operating procedures are written instructions (including procedures that are stored electronically and printed on demand) that (1) list the steps for a given task and (2) describe the manner in which the steps are to be performed. Good procedures also describe the process, hazards, tools, protective equipment, and controls in sufficient detail that operators understand the hazards, can verify that controls are in place, and can confirm that the process responds in an expected manner. Procedures also provide instructions for troubleshooting when the system does not respond as expected. Procedures should specify when an emergency shutdown should be executed and should also address special situations, such as temporary operation with a specific equipment item out of service. Operating procedures are normally used to control activities such as transitions between products, periodic cleaning of process equipment, preparing equipment for certain maintenance activities, and other activities routinely performed by operators. The scope of this element is limited to those operating procedures that describe the tasks required to safely start up, operate, and shut down processes, including emergency shutdown. Operating procedures complement safe work and asset integrity procedures, which are addressed in Chapters 11 and 12, respectively. 

Why Is It Important?

A consistent 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. Without written procedures, a facility can have no assurance that the intended procedures and methods are used by each operator, or even that an individual operator will consistently execute a particular task in the intended manner.

Where/When Is It Done?

Procedures are normally developed at a facility before an operation is performed. Even if the objective of the operation is to develop or optimize a production method, for example, a pilot plant, a written procedure should be developed that establishes a safe operating envelope and specifies any limiting conditions for operation. Procedures should be updated when a change that affects operating methods or other information contained in the procedures occurs, and procedures should be reviewed periodically to ensure that they remain valid.

Who Does It?

Procedures are often jointly developed by operators and process engineers who have a high degree of involvement and knowledge of process operations. (In this chapter, the term operator is used to describe the person who directly controls the process either via a control system or manipulation of field equipment; note that many facilities use other terms, such as technician, to describe this function.) Operators, supervisors, engineers, and managers are often involved in the review and approval of new procedures or changes to existing procedures. Other work groups, such as maintenance, should also be involved if the operating procedures could potentially affect them. At some facilities, technical writers are used to translate input from subject matter experts, such as experienced operators or engineers, into operating procedures.

What Is the Anticipated Work Product?

The output of this activity is current, accurate, and useful written instructions that apply to normal operations, nonroutine or infrequent tasks, and special high hazard tasks. In many cases, written procedures are developed for otherwise low risk or straightforward tasks that are critical to achieving production goals or when a task includes a series of steps that involve multiple people or departments. This helps ensure that everyone understands their roles/responsibilities in the task and maximizes the efficiency of work processes. In addition to being a useful guide to operators, procedures help provide critical information to the training element and provide the objective standards of performance required for implementing an effective operations element. However, operating procedures are generally not training manuals. Procedures should be written in sufficient detail that a qualified worker can consistently and successfully perform the task. 

How Is It Done?

To develop an effective set of operating procedures, start by identifying tasks that should be addressed. Once the tasks are identified, determine the expected competence level for personnel who will be assigned to perform the task, and structure each procedure appropriately. In addition to developing a list of tasks (corresponding to a list of procedures), decide on the appropriate procedure format. Using a consistent format with a high degree of structure for each procedure will help operators quickly locate different types of information.