With the advent of modern control systems, we have the unlimited capacity to configure alarms. This has resulted in many poor practices leading to high alarm rates, flooding, and inappropriate display information. This reduces the situational awareness of the operator and increases the likelihood of process safety events occurring. The goal of alarm management is to ensure the panel operator has appropriate situational awareness of the state of the process in all operating modes and conditions. This article discusses three red flags in Alarm Management (AM) implementation.
Red Flag # 1: Alarm Management is not linked to Process Safety Management (PSM) - in the organisation
A key role of alarm management is to give control room operators an understanding of whether the plant is operating outside the operating envelope. Alarms are often considered control measures that reduce the demand rate for safety functions or mechanical controls will operate. As such, it is a key component of the PSM framework. If alarm management is considered a sub-discipline of a controls system engineer, and not part of PSM, then it is possible that it won’t receive the appropriate level of attention.
Alarm management (AM) projects are often initiated because of high alarm rates. An AM project usually starts with the development of a philosophy and design standards and then moves through to insufficient actor resolution and rationalisation workshops. Whilst these projects can yield significant benefits, ongoing monitoring and reporting are needed to sustain these improvements. It is important that a champion is established who has responsibilities to sustain these improvements.
Red Flag # 3: No AM Philosophy and Design Standards
You may get away with no alarm philosophy in the early stages of AM if you have a small facility. The person managing the process (AM Champion) becomes the maintainer of standards. But if you want the legacy of the effort to be sustained, you will need to develop standards. An alarm standard is the foundation of good AM performance and provides the basis of design and operation for a company’s alarm systems. Without a standard, project engineers will focus on their own priorities without a holistic view. The standard also outlines what you are going to measure performance against.
If you would like to self-assess your current performance of alarm management at your site, have a look at this checklist.