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Modeling operators' emergency response time for chemical processing operations

Susan L. Murray, PhD, Emrah Harputlu, MS, Ray A. Mentzer, PhD, M. Sam Mannan, PhD


Operators have a crucial role during emergencies at a variety of facilities such as chemical processing plants. When an abnormality occurs in the production process, the operator often has limited time to either take corrective actions or evacuate before the situation becomes deadly. It is crucial that system designers and safety professionals can estimate the time required for a response before procedures and facilities are designed and operations are initiated.

There are existing industrial engineering techniques to establish time standards for tasks performed at a normal working pace. However, it is reasonable to expect the time required to take action in emergency situations will be different than working at a normal production pace. It is possible that in an emergency, operators will act faster compared to a normal pace. It would be useful for system designers to be able to establish a time range for operators' response times for emergency situations. This article develops a modeling approach to estimate the time standard range for operators taking corrective actions or following evacuation procedures in emergency situations. This will aid engineers and managers in establishing time requirements for operators in emergency situations.

The methodology used for this study combines a well-established industrial engineering technique for determining time requirements (predetermined time standard system) and adjustment coefficients for emergency situations developed by the authors. Numerous videos of workers performing well-established tasks at a maximum pace were studied. As an example, one of the tasks analyzed was pit crew workers changing tires as quickly as they could during a race. The operations in these videos were decomposed into basic, fundamental motions (such as walking, reaching for a tool, and bending over) by studying the videos frame by frame. A comparison analysis was then performed between the emergency pace and the normal working pace operations to determine performance coefficients. These coefficients represent the decrease in time required for various basic motions in emergency situations and were used to model an emergency response. This approach will make hazardous operations requiring operator response, alarm management, and evacuation processes easier to design and predict. An application of this methodology is included in the article. The time required for an emergency response was roughly a one-third faster than for a normal response time.


emergency response, process safety operations, MODAPTS, reaction time standards

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