Stand Up For Change
This is an expanded version of the Editorial that appeared in the print version of Chemical Engineering Progress, April 2015.
Management of change (MOC) is an essential element of process safety management (PSM). The purpose of an MOC system is to evaluate and manage the hazards associated with alterations to process materials, processing conditions, equipment, maintenance materials, procedures, utilities, facilities, control systems, and so on.
In the article “Recognize Hazards to Recognize Change” (pp. 40–44), Donald Lorenzo, Della Wong, and Mark Suyama liken managing change in the chemical process industries (CPI) to the challenge of piloting a ship on a voyage. Subtle changes in winds, waves, currents, and tides are difficult to discern, but each small change becomes the new normal, and the next change seems to be only a small difference. Only after the ship hits an obstruction does the captain realize how severely the ship has veered off course. That was the inspiration for this issue’s cover.
MOC systems sometimes fail because employees fail to recognize change. Perhaps normalization of deviation — the gradual process through which unacceptable practices or standards become accepted as the new normal — is at work. Lorenzo et al. say that often workers do not consider an activity or a difference to be a change, because they think it does not have any hazards associated with it. They suggest that change management can be improved by inverting the MOC paradigm. Instead of focusing on change recognition, shift the focus to improving hazard recognition. This approach, they say, captures changes that may be easily overlooked, such as undocumented improvements in procedures, improvised work-arounds to equipment limitations, and external circumstances.
Speaking of unrecognized hazards and normalization of deviation … You are probably subjecting yourself to a hazard day in and day out without even realizing it, maybe even as you are reading this — sitting. Numerous studies have demonstrated the adverse effects of sitting. The Washington Post published a very informative infographic (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/health/sitting/Sitting.pdf) highlighting some of these, including organ damage (heart disease, overproductive pancreas, colon cancer), muscle degeneration (mushy abs, tight hips, limp glutes), leg disorders (poor circulation, soft bones), bad back (inflexible spine, disk damage), and “trouble at the top,” including sore shoulders and back, strained neck, and a foggy brain.
Experts warn that sitting is the new smoking. Researchers in Australia looked at television viewing as a measure of time spent sitting. They found that, on average, every hour of TV viewed after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. In contrast, they report that the average loss of life due to smoking a single cigarette has been estimated at 11 minutes. What’s scary is that this does not include time spent sitting while doing other activities.
In a paper entitled “Lethal Sitting: Homo Sedentarius Seeks Answers” in the journal Physiology, endocrinologist James Levine, co-director of Obesity Solutions at the Mayo Clinic, reports that epidemiological data link excess sitting to 34 chronic diseases and conditions, including obesity and metabolic, cardiovascular, joint, sleep, and psychological disorders. The question he seeks to answer is “How did chair addiction sweep through the world without anyone noticing?” It is an example of society’s long-term normalization of deviation — the gradual shift from our ancestors’ lifestyle based on manual labor and physical activity to ours, where “almost every daily activity can now be conducted from a chair,” Levine says. Most of us have also experienced normalization of deviation at the personal level, spending more time engaged in screen-based leisure and play than participating in sports or other physical pursuits.
How can we manage the risks associated with this hazard?
Although many studies suggest that exercise lessens the health risks of sitting only slightly, Men’s Health reports on research by Mark Peterson at the Univ. of Michigan School of Medicine to the contrary. When participants’ level of activity, as measured by accelerometers, was factored in, those who did the highest amount of moderate and vigorous activity were not at any increased risk for heart disease or diabetes, regardless of how much sedentary time they logged. “As long as they were exercising hard and regularly, it didn’t matter if they also had a lot of sedentary behavior,” he says. The protective effect appears to require a minimum of 30–45 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity at least five days a week, whether done all at once or accumulated in shorter bursts throughout the day, Peterson states.
And, it turns out that any movement is a step in the right direction, thanks to nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) — the burning of calories during everyday activities. In an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Gretchen Reynolds, author of the Phys Ed column for The New York Times’ Well blog, explained the benefits of standing: “The very, very best thing is to simply stand up. And that sounds so simple, but it actually has profound consequences. If you can stand up every 20 minutes — even if you do nothing else, even if you don't move to the window — you change how your body responds physiologically. You start using the big muscles in your legs, because [they] have to hold you upright. They start contracting. That actually releases enzymes that break up the fat in your bloodstream. It improves your blood flow. It lessens the amount of fat that you'll wind up having in your heart. It decreases your chances of getting diabetes. It decreases your chance of getting heart disease, and all it requires is standing up.” Reynolds stated that just standing up for two minutes every 20 minutes reduces your chance of becoming diabetic significantly; and if you also walk around the office, for example, to the window or the next cubicle, you reap even greater benefits.
Here’s a situation where normalization of deviation can be applied intentionally, in a positive way. Standing for one minute once an hour is a small change. If you do it often enough, it will become your new normal. That might prompt your colleagues to stand and lead to a new normal for them, too. The hazards of this chain reaction (e.g., tripping, bumping a knee, etc.) are easily managed.
An app (Time Out Free) on my computer prompts me to take a five-minute break every hour and a 30-second break every 20 minutes. I had been getting a bit lax recently, skipping breaks and even turning the app off when it got to be annoying. I just turned it back on.
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