Abnormal Situation Management


Since the early 1970s, process industries were faced with an alarming number of incidents that resulted in a multitude of undesired effects, ranging from reduced profits to lives lost. Industry began performing studies to investigate the causes behind these incidents and found that human factors had a significant impact. Problem areas included operators’ alertness levels, poorly-designed alarm systems and work environments, and inappropriate staffing levels. In short, human factor issues were significant contributors to both major and minor incidents. Major events, including Three Mile Island and Texaco Pembroke, were the direct result of “human error.”

Abnormal Situations

Abnormal situations encompass a range of events outside the “normal” plant operating modes, i.e., trips, fires, explosions, toxic releases, human error, or just failing to reach planned targets.

Abnormal Situation Management

Abnormal Situation Management is a comprehensive process for improving performance which addresses the entire plant population. It promotes effective utilization of all available resources—i.e. hardware, software, and people, to achieve safe and efficient operations.

Abnormal Situation Management Consortium®

The Abnormal Situation Management Joint Research and Development Consortium® conducts research and shares experiences with factors contributing to the successful reduction of abnormal situations in petrochemical processes, and develops, evaluates and provides new solutions to reduce risks even further. The ASM Consortium was informally established in 1992 as the outgrowth of an effort to define improvements to DCS alarm system technologies. Realizing that the alarm system was but a small part of the lager issue of managing unexpected process upsets, a number of companies teamed with Honeywell to develop a problem statement and a vision for the solution.

The ASM team has conducted many additional formal site studies, and other, less-formal, on-site analyses, to further develop our understanding of ASM best practices and deliver benefits to our Consortium member companies.

The Best Practices Guidelines currently contain criteria in seven areas of interest, including:

  • Understanding of Abnormal Situations
  • Management Structure and Policy
  • Training and Skill Development
  • Communications
  • Procedures
  • Control Building Environment
  • Process Monitoring and Control Applications

The ASM Consortium has agreed to share these best practices through paid site assessment studies to consortium and non-consortium members.

The current members of the Consortium are BAW Architecture, Celanese, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Honeywell, Shell, TTS Performance Systems, and UCLA.

Ian Nimmo, President of User Centered Design Services, Inc., was the ASM Program Director from its inception until December, 1999.

User Centered Design Services was an Associate member from 2000 to 2005.

The ASM Consortium operates a website that contains a large collection of public documents on the research program and solution elements.


Early work of the Abnormal Situation Management Consortium® included a survey of the US petrochemical industry. The consortium estimated that there were losses of approximately $20 billion per year from abnormal situations (approximately the total overall annual profits)/

Evidence leading to this estimate:

  • Plant surveys showed frequent incidents with typical costs ranging from $100,000 to well in excess of $1 million per year. For example, one plant surveyed had 240 shutdowns per year at a total cost of $8 million. Many of these shutdowns were preventable.
  • It was found that refineries, on average, suffer a major incident once every three years, costing on average $80 million.
  • One insurance company’s statistics showed that the industry was claiming, on average more than $2.2 billion per year due to equipment damage. It is likely that actual total losses to the companies are significantly higher than what could be claimed.


These studies by Abnormal Situation Management Consortium® indicated that companies who achieved Best Practice in operations improve their productivity by 5 – 12 percent.