Operating Procedures – Part 1

There has always been an industry debate when it comes to operating procedures on how detailed the procedure needs to be. Of course, the answer will depend on who is asked, an operator, or a process engineer. This is a common question when discussing the operating procedure element. The answer is simple, as detailed as possible. This makes sense when you ask an operator if they use the operating procedures as part of their daily duties or refer to them as needed. The overwhelming majority of operators just refer to them as needed. If a well-trained operator is referring to an SOP only when needed, then it stands to reason that the procedure should be well detailed. Secondly, a new operator MUST be trained on the operating procedures. For an operator to have received sufficient training, the procedures need to have the needed detail. If the facility relies only on other operators to provide new operator training, then you can expect there to be operational deviations as compared to the written operating procedures. We all have bad habits, and without sufficiently detailed operating procedures, bad habits become operational norms in short order. Your operating procedures currently may lack sufficient detail, but it is never too late for “continuous improvement”. To begin, have your most experienced operator be a significant contributor. If you have operating procedures already, have them start to add as much detail to them as possible. Let your lesser experienced operators review the updated procedures, allowing them to learn the detail, and question or provide feedback. You will be surprised in what you learn when you start detailing out a procedure. More importantly, you may have also averted a process safety event as a result.