BLOG: Alarms without action are a liability

Woman in control room with screens

Is it time to evaluate your DCS/HMI alarm management?

“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 on-going 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. But 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 which 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 in order 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

When you have an effective alarm system in place, you’ll reduce the workload on your operators and create a safer working environment in your organization. When problems do arise, you’ll have greater visibility on the alarms that matter.

Greater visibility on the alarms that matter.

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 identifying points where improvements can be made
  • Alarm management system – identifying problems so you can implement corrective strategies

It’s important to remember that robust and effective alarm management requires an on-going 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.

 

Are you ready to identify alarm problems and implement corrective strategies? Download the white paper today.

David Barker

David Barker

I am Managing Director of Dimension Software. A long time PI guy with experience in a range of industry. I am passionate about providing business value, innovative thinking and quality results for our customers to help them achieve the most from their PI and wider IT/OT ecosystem.