Procedure sections: Response to Upset Conditions

It is said that almost anyone can operate a process that runs smoothly. It is when the process “goes off the rails,” when something goes wrong, that separates the proficient operator from those less able.

As was discussed in a previous post, the intent of Process Safety Management (the OSHA standard this procedure structure is modeled after) is to equip process operators to be able to respond to any “upset” condition before a major safety or environmental incident occurs. As a result, the procedure must detail:

  • What could happen
  • How to detect if an upset is occurring (or is about to occur)
  • What the result could be if swift and correct action is not taken (how the situation could escalate)
  • What action(s) to take

Many people reading this may say, correctly, “My process is not in danger of blowing up or spilling over. Why would this section matter?”

It matters because any process that fails will necessarily cost the organization money. In other words, a process upset will create one or more losses: wasted material, wasted time, broken equipment, overtime to try again, upset schedules, among others. For this reason, all processes should be evaluated to identify potential losses, the potential consequences of a loss, and how to ensure the loss does not happen.

(Side note here: I am not suggesting that failures be identified solely to include their description and response in a procedure. Failures that are identified should also be evaluated to determine how to eliminate the likelihood or possibility of such a failure. That is a different branch of the Instructional Communication tree, which we will climb at some future time.)

By having a thorough description of the potential process upsets, how to detect and respond to, in the procedure, the learner/operator is equipped to become more capable at maintaining process control. Because ultimately, prevention of something going wrong is in nearly all cases the result of doing all things related to the procedure correctly. The correct behaviors can be reinforced by stressing the consequences when procedure is not followed.


About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
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