PSUG: Alarm Mgt Means Effective Operators

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 @ 03:11 PM gHale

By Gregory Hale
Solid alarm management program means stronger performance from operators, which means the process will be running with greater productivity and in a much safer state.

“Alarm management will help operators improve performance,” said Todd Stauffer, director of alarm management at safety provider exida during the Tuesday Rockwell Automation Process Solutions User Group (PSUG) session entitled “How to create an effective alarm management program” in Anaheim, CA. “A well performing alarm management program helps operators perform much better.”

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To kick off the session, Stauffer asked the audience to play a little word association on the word or words users think of when it comes to alarm management. The responses back were plentiful with words like: Alert operators, prioritization, too many alarms, distraction and actions.

The words Stauffer said he was looking for were “operator performance. We have to be mindful of operators getting too many alarms.”

Some of the alarm management issues that hit operators square on:
• Too many alarms
• Alarm floods
• Nuisance alarms
• Alarms that have no response
• Alarms with the wrong priority

One of the issues with nuisance alarms is they “interrupt operators constantly with no meaningful action behind the response,” he said.

Alarms with the wrong priority always present a problem since it does not give a proper context for the severity of the issue.

“Priority is important because it tells the operator which alarm he should respond to first,” Stauffer said.

Alarm management is not just an issue for operators working on the day-to-day issues at the plant. It could have huge repercussions. When you look at some of the biggest safety disasters over the past few years like the Texas City BP refinery disaster, or Deepwater Horizon and the DuPont Belle, WV, incident, they all have an alarm management connection, Stauffer said.

How do you solve the burden placed on operators’ shoulder? One way is to implement a program focused on the alarm management standard, ISA18.2. The standard gives a solid baseline toward an alarm management program. The ISA standard is an U.S.-based standard, but the IEC just passed its own international standard, IEC 62682, which gives alarm management a global footprint.

The standard defines an alarm management lifecycle and allows users to come up with a workflow to do alarm management effectively, and creates a common terminology.

The standard defines an alarm as “an audible and/or visual indication to the operator that an equipment malfunction, process deviation or other abnormal condition requires a response.”

Stauffer talked about the types of alarms and what they should do:
• Every alarm should have a defined response
• Operators should have an adequate amount of time to carry out a defined response
• Every alarm should be useful, relevant and unique
• There should be no more than an operator can handle
• They should be understandable

In talking about the standard, Stauffer gave seven steps to create a solid alarm management program:
• Benchmark performance
• Create an alarm philosophy
• Rationalize alarms
• Create an alarm response procedure
• Alarm shelving/suppression
• Measure response
• Audit

In the world of alarms, there needs to be a way to differentiate between alarms and high priority alarms and one way to do that is to have a strong graphic interface that acts as a strong visual indicator. Not only should there be a program, but there should be a simple, but effective color and graphical interface that is easy to recognize.

“When an alarm occurs, we will change the color and add some symbols,” said Tony Barrancotta, PlantPAx engineering manager at Rockwell Automation, who also presented with Stauffer.

The HMI graphic interface employs a series of symbols that will represent a level of severity and colors that also represent levels of severity. As an example, Barrancotta said the color blue may be the lowest level of severity where fuchsia would be the most severe.

In the inherently dangerous environment throughout the industry, alarm management has always been a vital part of every enterprise. It just now appears to coming of age in terms ensuring a stronger, effective operation.

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