Alarms Without Action Are A Liability

An effective alarm management is essential for maintaining a safe, efficient, and crisis-free plant operation. But what are the steps and how is it achieved? 

“A well-managed plant is silent and boring,” said management consultant, educator, and author Peter Drucker. “Nothing exciting happens in it because the crises have been anticipated and have been converted into routine.”  

Like most well-managed operations, this lack of drama is down to a considerable amount of work behind the scenes. This is especially true of alarm management because alarms exist to notify operators when there’s a problem.

That’s why it’s important to think of alarm management as not just a task but as an ongoing way of life in your organization – like health and safety. There needs to be a comprehensive strategy in place for alarm management and not an ad-hoc system that ends up negating the whole point of having alarms in the first place.

Before the advent of the Distributed Control System (DCS), alarms were configured via mechanical means – annunciators, light boxes, etc. However, since DCS became the norm, extra alarms can be added at a reduced cost by using software instead. However, over the years this has led to the evolution of sites with multiple control systems and added IoT, AI, etc. All of these are increasing the frequency, complexity, and volume of alarms and events, which can potentially create an unsafe environment in control rooms and remote operations centers when alarms are designed to do the exact opposite.

Not only that, but if an alarm system is not designed and managed effectively, operators can become overwhelmed with unnecessary alarms, taking them away from their core tasks.

 
So what causes alarm management problems?

Generally speaking, there are two main factors:  

  1. When an alarm goes off, operators are not taking action, or what they are doing is incorrect.
  2. The alarm system hasn’t been specifically configured to an organization’s needs to mitigate disturbances  
 

Does this sound familiar? If so, then you’ve identified why you’re experiencing problems with your alarm system, and now is the time for a complete evaluation. You need to find ways to optimize your alarm system, including:  

  • Reducing the number of alarms in your organization  
  • Reviewing the priority of each one  
  • Validating their limits
 
What are the steps to effective alarm management? How is it achieved?

To help you with this, we’ve developed a white paper that provides actionable advice on implementing a robust alarm management system within your organization – or dramatically improving the one you already have. Why we need effective alarm management looks at these key areas: 

  • Why we need effective alarm management – mitigating, preventing, and minimizing the impact of abnormal situations
  • The purpose of alarms – defining the boundary between normal and abnormal conditions of a process
  • Alarm system problems – nuisance and state alarms, operator response, alarm floods, frequent alarms  
  • What constitutes good and bad alarm management – a checklist  
  • Alarm rationalization – the process of examining one alarm at a time against the principles and design of safety standards within the plant  
  • Performance metrics – key metrics for a robust approach to alarm management  
  • Alarm improvements – why you need to periodically re-examine every alarm configured on the system and identify points where improvements can be made  
  • Alarm management system – identifying problems so you can implement corrective strategies  
 

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that robust and effective alarm management requires an ongoing approach – it’s not set-and-forget. Once your alarm system has been evaluated and you’ve pinpointed the areas that need improvement, you still need a strategy for checking that controls are in place to continually check that the alarms are behaving as they should and that any changes are properly documented.

In our whitepaper, we dive into the business imperative for alarm management systems, with actionable advice to help you implement a robust Alarm Management System within your organization, or dramatically improve the system you already have.

 
Discover our practical guide to implementing an effective Alarm Management systems within your organization. 

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