Human factors and the impact on plant safety

Download eGuide:  Start ups and shut downs remain the most tenuous time for any plant. The timing, technology, knowledge of technology, and adherence to procedures are vital.

Operating procedures should clearly lay down instructions for operation of the process plant. The procedure needs to represent a best practice that should occur at all times. Process operators should have guidance concerning the required operating philosophy to ensure they run the plant efficiently, comply with procedural requirements and properly identify abnormal conditions and respond accordingly. On top of that, adequate training should ensure operators are fully conversant with written procedures. That is where people, process and technology all have to work in unison to make sure the plant starts or stops without incident. Yes, technology is always there to ensure the manufacturer has the correct tools and surely there is a process in place that earmarks the correct path.

But what about the Human Factor? Just how does the human play into the impact on plant safety?

Technology is the key to any operation today, but humans factor into every aspect of the facility’s lifecycle from design to operations and maintenance. But human factors analysis in the process industries found basic automated actions are reliable to one in several hundred thousand occurrences. To take it one step further, for certified safety systems the reliability is even higher at reliability levels approaching one failure in one million reoccurrences. But when it comes to manual actions, the reliability drops dramatically to 1 in 100 occurrences or less depending on environmental conditions such as mental stress during an abnormal event. While through a concerted effort on process safety compliance via training, automation and enforcement there has been
a dramatic drop in process safety incidents.


However, over the last five years, there has been a change. Incidents have not gone up, but rather there has been a plateau level where incidents remained low, but the infrequent incidents that do occur are more severe and costly. Root-cause analysis indicates in spite of the high degree of automation, operator training, and behavioral enforcement, error due to human judgment continues to be troubling.

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