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Procedural Nonsense


The following is an actual step, to be initialized and time-stamped, from an emergency procedure for a power failure.

"The No. 1 Operator must quickly ensure that the No. 2 operators are mentally and emotionally organized and are ready to quickly, but safely, proceed with the next required steps in this action."

How could this poorly written piece of nonsense make it into an actual emergency procedure? Like many aspects of human performance technology, I place part of the blame on the supervision of the people writing such hogwash.

Typically, the individuals writing the procedures and their supervisors have little formal training in how to perform the work correctly. More importantly, the supervisors have not written procedures themselves. They have not gone through the "trials and errors" to understand both what is a good procedure and how it is created. Lacking in both a theoretical grounding and a practical application of the work being performed (e.g., writing procedures), the result is an overemphasis on quantity. The output may be poor and of low value, but at least there is a lot of it.

I am unsure what the solution is. Typically, after much money and resources have been expended to produce bad work, no one wants to expend any additional resources to make it better (this is particularly true if the objective was not to produce usable documents, but simply to satisfy some regulatory requirement). Unfortunately, if changes are not made, all "new technologies" are seen to be of little value (e.g., "Those procedures are worthless and unusable; we are better off not doing anything."), and opportunities are missed for improving operator and/or system performance.

Copyright © 1999 Beville Engineering, Inc.


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This year's Fall meeting for the Center for Operator Performance will be October 24-26 in Corpus Christi. For more information, please contact Lisa Via. Guests are always welcome!


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David Strobhar's book, "Human Factors in Process Plant Operation," is now available in both hardcover and Kindle e-book.

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