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If the answer to more than one of these questions is "I don’t know" or "yes", then your Alarm Management system needs improvement, or at least an assessment. Poorly-managed alarms are a disaster waiting to happen. At best, they distract the operator from important events and slow down the response to the upset. At worst, the alarms will not be noticed, won’t occur at all, or will not be understood-- not a situation you want to deal with in an EPA/OSHA or insurers audit.
What will Alarm Management do for me?
Without effective alarm management, you cannot be certain that your operators will respond effectively when there is an upset. Alarms should define the boundary between normal operation and abnormal operation.
The following figure shows this relationship:
A properly applied Alarm Management program ensures that the alarms are:
How do I do it?
There are essentially two routes to improved Alarm Management:
Both approaches start with an assessment.
The Alarm Management Assessment (AMA) is an evaluation of your current operation by trained, experienced personnel, who examine all aspects of your existing alarm management systems. The AMA evaluates your current exposure to risk as a result of poor alarm management, and provides you with a grade in each of the different areas of Alarm Management, as well as an overall grade for your plant. Depending on the grade, the AMA recommends one of two different courses in each area.
The areas of Alarm Management evaluation are:
Alarm Definition: the existing procedures for defining and configuring alarms, alarm settings and priorities; the documentation of alarms and alarm-related procedures.
If the existing practice in an area receives a grade of B or A, then there is no urgent need for improvement in that area. You may need some management systems to ensure that performance is maintained or improves continuously over time; however, large amounts of effort are unnecessary in that area.
If the existing practice receives a grade of C or lower, then there is an organizational need to improve in that area, as described in the following sections.
Approaches to Alarm Improvement
There are two alternative approaches to alarm improvement. The appropriate approach depends on the grade from the Alarm Management Assessment. If the existing Definition, Management of Change and Operator Readiness processes are effective, then the alarm system can be improved by relatively simple continuous monitoring and continuous improvement. If the support processes are not in place, a more thorough approach is necessary.
If all is well, or if there are other organizational priorities, then you can apply a continuous improvement philosophy. You can greatly reduce nuisance alarms during normal operation by this method, however, this approach is effective at improving and maintaining only an already well-managed alarm system.
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