Operational Management and Procedural Violations in the Energy Sector

Research shows the underlying causes of procedural violations are not solely the responsibility of the frontline worker (HSE, 2012; Salvendry, 2012).

Effective operational management has a key role in ensuring promotion of safety culture, effective norms and values within the workforce. This ensures correct safe operational behaviours are considered ‘the norm’ for high hazard environments, such as drilling operations (Allnutt, 1987; Gordon, 1998; HSE, 2012).

Management neglect

Procedural violations are strongly influenced by management structures. Once a violation has gone overlooked by management this re-enforces the perception that a deviation from standard operational procedures is acceptable. This is known as ‘management neglect’ and has been highlighted as a key area of risk within the energy sector. (Chapanis, 1996; HSE, 2012).

Understanding the reasons and classifications behind non-compliance is the first step to accurately recording and addressing violations. Frequently our human factors consultants review operational logs that classify non-compliance as simply a ‘procedural violation’.

Information below provides a simple breakdown of violation types and identifies what they mean

Routine Violations:

An action, alternative procedure, task step or instruction which is in opposition to the standard operating procedure, but has over time become accepted as the ‘normal’ way of doing things.

Situational Violations:

A violation which is driven by situational factors in the employees working environment:

Examples Include:

Workplace Design

Time Pressure Equipment Design Environmental Factors

Exceptional Violations:

A rare high-risk violation, often occurring alongside other errors, risks or when an individual is attempting to complete a task or solve a problem in unusual conditions.

Optimising Violations:

A violation driven by an attempt to optimize a work situation, for example attempting a ‘simpler’ yet equally safe and efficient way to complete a task. Often the result of repetitive work which is perceived as ‘boring’.


Classified by actions or work outcomes which do not align with standard operating procedures (SOP’s) for any given task. This type of human failure is more accurately termed ‘Human Error’ and encompasses any decision or action which deviates from agreed standards.

How to pinpoint problem areas

Clear and accurate tracking of procedural violations and ensuring non-compliance incidents are recorded under the correct classification allows for ‘pinpointing’ of problem areas within the operational overview (Edwards, 1973).

While the information above illustrates some simple categories for violations, IHF specialise in utilizing macro and micro level procedural mapping to monitor and classify procedural violations. This ensures optimal reflowing of procedures, particularly where repeated or ongoing non-compliance issues are present. This ‘engineering out’ of opportunities for violations has a significant effect on operational safety culture, productivity and reductions in accident & incident rates.

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Allnutt, M. F. (1987). Human factors in accidents. British Journal of Anaesthesia, 59(7), 856-864.
Edwards, E. (1973). Man and machine- Systems for safety(Man machine systems for flight safety, studying accidents, human factors in system design and implementation of personnel). Outlook on safety, 21-36.
Gordon, R. P. (1998). The contribution of human factors to accidents in the offshore oil industry. Reliability Engineering & System Safety, 61(1), 95-108.
HSE, (2012) Human Factors that lead to non-compliance with standard operating procedures. Health and Safety Executive. Research Report: RR919.
Salvendy, G. (2012). Handbook of human factors and ergonomics. John Wiley & Sons.
Chapanis, A. (1996). Human factors in systems engineering. John Wiley & Sons, Inc..