Make the Most of Your Summer Reading

Two new books provide important insights and guidance about plant safety.

By Mark Rosenzweig, Editor in Chief

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Few of us can fully escape work even when on vacation. Sure, time off should allow us to unwind and forget about issues at the plant or office. However, it's only natural during quiet moments to turn to thinking about the job. Indeed, today's tough economy makes it even harder to completely disconnect.

Some people undoubtedly worry about what's been happening during their absence. No one wants to return to confront unwelcome surprises. Others find that it's the only time free of day-to-day job pressures and the need to deal with immediate issues — and, thus, the rare chance to finally consider lingering or longer-term concerns.

If you're in the latter group or just enjoy technical reading in your free time, I strongly recommend two books that can help you improve process safety:

• "What Went Wrong: Case Histories of Process Plant Disasters and How They Could Have Been Avoided," the just-released fifth edition of Trevor Kletz's landmark work; and
• "ASM Consortium Guidelines: Effective Alarm Management Practices," which became available in June.

Take advantage of the expertise of a safety guru and a key consortium.

Kletz has played a crucial role in advancing process safety. He spent his industrial career at now-gone British chemical giant Imperial Chemical Industries (see "ICI Fades into History"), becoming its first technical safety advisor in 1968. ICI pioneered hazard and operability studies (Hazops); Kletz wrote the first book on the topic. He has authored numerous books and articles about safety, including "Check for Human Errors."

The first edition of "What Went Wrong," published in 1985, provided details about accidents at ICI and elsewhere and, importantly, identified lessons that should be learned from them. The fifth edition, which came out in early July and retails for $89.95, contains 640 pages, an increase of more than 200 pages from the fourth edition. It includes information on recent incidents as well as a new section that focuses on the significant role simple miscommunications within an organization often plays and how straightforward design changes can combat opportunities for human error.

Kletz comments on the book in the latest "Trevor's Corner" posted on the Mary K. O'Connor Process Safety Center Web site:

 "The new edition is about three-times as long as the first edition, but the extra material is not just 'more of the same.' The early editions were mainly concerned with engineering matters. The fifth edition also describes them but, in addition, whenever possible, the new material looks for the underlying or root causes of the accidents, such as weaknesses in organization, 'custom and practice,' and culture. These are matters that senior managers should consider even when they are not engineers or scientists."

"Effective Alarm Management Practices" tackles a subject that's crucial for avoiding safety incidents. Plants depend upon alarms to help operators keep problems from escalating. However, many plants suffer from over-alarming, which makes it harder for operators to properly deal with upsets. Various tools and techniques can help but often are ineffectively employed (see "Adroitly Manage Alarms."


The Abnormal Situation Management (ASM) Consortium, founded in 1994, focuses on improving plants' ability to avoid or address abnormal situations. Historically, its deliverables only went to members. However, in March, the consortium announced it would offer select research more broadly. At that time, it released "Effective Operator Display Design," which provides best practices for human/machine interfaces.

"Effective Alarm Management Practices," marks its second public offering. Authored by Jamie Errington, Dal Vernon Reising and Catherine Burns, the book runs 106 pages and is available through Amazon for $150.

The book devotes more than half of its pages to a section on "Guidelines Detail and Examples," which addresses 14 guidelines, ranging from establishing management support for alarm management to setting up an alarm system performance-monitoring program to ensuring that incident reviews get into alarm system impact. Other sections cover, e.g., business drivers and the guideline development process; an alarm philosophy example; and a glossary. The book also contains six appendices, including ones for guidelines' checklists, application to common problems, and preventing and responding to abnormal situations.

As Nick Sands of DuPont, who is co-chair of the ISA-18 Committee, which has just issued a standard on alarm management, notes in the book's forward:

"The purpose of the standard is to document requirements and some recommendations. The ASM guidelines provide further details and implementation examples, as well as explanations of why each practice is important and how it relates to other practices."

"The practices in this guideline can increase situational awareness and reduce the cost of operating errors…"

It's a safe bet that you'll find these two books valuable.

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