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Blunder #4: Stop Philosophizing and Get it Done!
Failing to establish and document best practices is a recipe for disaster. In order to get consistent results you have to create guidelines for performing alarm rationalization. For example, a project-specific alarm philosophy, including a methodology and rules for setting alarms, an alarm review to build commitment and consolidate training, as well as an audit process to ensure that the philosophy is consistently applied. These guidelines will clearly define the criteria for legitimate alarms and setting of their priorities. These are the backbone of an “Alarm Philosophy” document, which acts as a corporate standard to guide your entire organization’s alarm management initiatives.
Blunder #5: Cutting Resource Corners
It is disturbingly common for companies to try and exclude the most important resource from rationalization meetings: the Panel Operator. Panel Operators are the end user and the primary stakeholder in alarm optimization. If you exclude the Panel Operator from the rationalization process, the project will fail.
The following reality is based on unpleasant site experience. Instrument Technicians, Automation Engineers, Process Engineers, and Field Operators are not Panel operators. Please pay attention; the only person who can be the “Panel Operator” is an experienced Panel Operator. This person fights alarms and unit problems day-in and day-out and his knowledge becomes very valuable during the rationalization process.
Alarm Rationalization is the process of applying operational experience to alarm system design. Although operators are the most important participants in this process, they cannot carry this burden alone. Without a facilitator who is familiar with Alarm Rationalization, your rationalization project will take longer than it should, yield poor results, and have to be repeated.
Finally, Alarm Rationalization requires an engineering review prior to implementation. This is required to ensure results are consistent with Hazard and Operability Studies (HAZOP) and Safety Integrity Level (SIL) studies. The “Process”, “Unit”, or “Contact” engineer plays this role.
Blunder #6: Establishing the Easieerst or Cheapest Connection
Collecting alarm data in an optimal fashion is system specific. The easiest way is often not the best way. Be sure to answer the following questions:
Don’t restrict connectivity to legacy strategies if they do not meet current needs. What worked in the past may no longer be the best solution. However, do not make things unnecessarily complex. Decide what you want to accomplish and then choose the simplest method that meets all of your needs. If the collection strategy becomes overly complex then it will be hard to maintain, and ultimately your entire alarm management strategy will suffer.
Blunder #7: Failing to Automate
Good technology makes life easier. Its purpose is to relieve people of dangerous, repetitive tasks, freeing them to intervene when the automated system requires guidance. When intervention is required, software should make problem assessment and diagnosis easy so as to free the user’s time to fix the problem.
Although task accountability is necessary for successful Alarm Management, staff is more likely to use reliable technologies that are available on demand to make their jobs easier.
Blunder #8: Only Tracking Alarms
People often mistakenly fail to track all of the data required. Only tracking alarms is not enough! Alarm rationalization requires more than one type of data. For example, when an alarm occurs you need to know if an operator actually responded to it. Tracking operator actions is an effective way to identify control problems, automation opportunities, and audit the effectiveness of your alarm strategy. If the operator did not respond, there is a good chance that the alarm is a nuisance alarm. Examine the ratio of operator actions to audible process alarms in order to identify poor alarm strategies. The de-facto standard “every alarm requires operator intervention” demands this ratio exceed one.
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