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If one of your operators misses an alarm because there are too many, what is the best solution?

As a former Process Control Manger, I have had this discussion more times than I can remember, and it has generally been with people who I would otherwise consider intelligent. Thinking back, I find it interesting that I never had this discussion with the person with the most knowledge of the situation, the console operator. So, what is the correct answer?  
Of course, the answer is to utilize the ANSI/ISA 18.2 Alarm Management standard if you haven’t already done so. But let’s assume you have. Then what? I believe the key to finding the answer is in the Alarm Management Life Cycle, found within the standard…


The place to start is the Monitoring and Assessment stage. Unfortunately, this stage is normally viewed as only the monitoring, the qualitative or metrics, and then the “assessment” of the monitoring. However, in the definition section of the standard, assessment is the “comparison of information from monitoring and additional qualitative (subjective) measurements, against stated goals and defined performance metrics.”
You may be thinking of adding an alarm because an alarm was missed by the operator due to an undesired event that occurred. Hopefully one of the stated goals of your alarms system is to prevent such events. Therefore, it is time to assess, and I mean really assess. Too many times I have seen written in Root Cause Analysis (RCA) reports, “operator missed an alarm, human error”… and that’s it.
So, it’s time to do some real digging into the problem, perhaps a full-scale RCA using the 5-Why Analysis centered only around the cause of the missed alarm. You might find the solution to be:
  • Too many alarms at the same time. Solutions can range from implementing a shelving program to dynamic alarm suppression.
  • Alarm text is not descriptive enough.
  • Alarm is not prioritized correctly.
  • Alarm setpoint needs adjusting.
  • Not displayed prominently enough on graphic.
  • and more, but hopefully your solution is not to add another alarm!

 So, what’s the health of your Alarm System? Look for an email in a couple of weeks announcing the first topic in our Self-Assessment Series, Alarm Management. If you’d like to discuss Alarm Management opportunities today contact me at:
Rob Brooks
+1.623.551.9057 (Ext 901)