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How Alarm Management Could Save Your Company Millions

Alarm Management is more than just another chore companies must do to comply with Regulations, it is a great investment and has an immediate ROI when done correctly. Unfortunately, it is often treated as a chore with no ROI.

Let me say first off that no plant or process is designed to run in Abnormal Operations which is that area defined outside of “Normal” operations and before Emergency operations. Unfortunately, when you do a survey of many of our plants we find page after page of alarms and the process running outside of its design limits which causes early life-cycle failure of equipment throwing reliability initiatives out of the window.

Not only is equipment impacted, productivity, Quality, Safety, Environmental controls are all compromised by poor alarm management practices. It is not untypical to see a 3-15% improvement in productivity after alarm rationalization and significant improvement in maintenance costs.

The true cost of poor alarm management is hard to measure as it impacts so many areas, but the most significant costs occur when alarm management issues become causal factors in a major incident /accident such as Texaco Pembroke, BP Texas City and Esso Longford incident whose costs are more in the Billions of dollars range.

However, many managers never consider the day-to-day costs let alone the cost of exposing a company to a major accident. Trevor Kletz once said, “If you think safety is costly, try having an accident”.

The worst part about addressing this problem is that it must use valuable plant resources, there is no “silver-bullet”, no magic wand to make the problem go away over-night. You cannot give the problem to a consultant to take the data away and magically make it better. It often took years to create this problem and will probably take years to correct it.

However, if the problem is attacked with a good, well-proven strategy it can go smoothly and can create relief in a short-time scale with upfront ROI being delivered immediately and risk dramatically reduced as configuration problems such as duplications, alarms with no operator actions and incorrect alarm setpoint corrections and prescribed filtering techniques applied.

Success should follow the ISA SP18 or IEC 62692 Standard life-cycle model which covers the main topics and becomes an implementation strategy:

  1. Develop a comprehensive Alarm Philosophy that is used
  2. Develop a method for identifying and categorizing alarms
  3. Develop a Procedure to Rationalize alarms and train a small team of multi-disciplined workers how to successfully configure the alarms and document the results.
  4. Ensure the Detailed Design Process does not miss any important steps.
  5. Implement and test the newly configured alarms.
  6. Operate the newly configured alarms and provide feedback on performance improvements through defined metrics. Provide adequate training on significant changes to the alarm management system.
  7. Develop a maintenance strategy for each of the different categories of alarms with significant emphasis given to testing safety-related alarms.
  8. Develop a Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly and Annual Assessments for alarm performance against the KPI’s defined in the Alarm Philosophy.
  9. Implement based on Management of Change Process.