Developing a viable and sustainable alarm management system

2 min read published on August 31 2023

The most common reason IPCOS is contacted for alarm management projects is a corporate push to bring alarm rates down. In addition, the lack of a standardized system often triggers customer requests, usually because external auditors point out a deficiency (i.e., the Seveso directive imposes the obligation to install a proper alarm management system). More drivers to develop an alarm management system can be identified. IPCOS handles each of them with a specific approach.

The Challenge

An overload of alarms can lead to abnormal situations in which the alarms no longer stand out. This, in turn, leads to the acknowledgement of the alarms by those monitoring the process without reviewing what the system is communicating. They are so used to the high number of alarms that they assume no action is needed.

This is a loss of the initial alarm function. This attitude of “acknowledging alarms without checking” has led to severe incidents and continues to lead to incidents with environmental, health, reputational and economic impacts.

The methodology depends on the customer’s current situation and future goals

The experience of the alarm management team at IPCOS teaches us that if you want to successfully introduce a sustainable alarm management system with a high degree of standardization, you need to define the ground rules. An alarm philosophy should always be in place, developed alongside the local process experts. Understanding the company and site culture is also vital.

Therefore, alarm management overhaul often starts by drawing up an alarm philosophy (or reviewing/refining an existing document). The next step depends on the customer, the actions that have been taken up until now, what is driving them to make an effort in alarm management or what goals the company has in mind. The aim is to keep things simple and manageable.

After thoroughly analyzing the customer's needs, the health of the alarm system, including available knowledge and technology on the customer side, IPCOS offers a customized solution with achievable goals. Planning is done according to budget, need for speed, availability of on-site resources (people) and process documentation.

The approach

The approach is simple: understand the need and act on it.

  • Some customers lack the knowledge – in those cases we offer training
  • Many customers lack the manpower – unburdening by supplying a couple of specialists can be the answer
  • When the main need revolves around monitoring the health of the alarm system and achieving goals, support is provided with data analysis, KPI calculation, dashboarding, performing audits, gap and benchmark analyses
  • If a customer recognizes a lack of standardization, uniformity or logic in the alarm configuration, introducing an appropriate alarm rationalization methodology, development and population of a Master Alarm Database (MADb) could be the approach
  • When the purchase of an alarm management software tool (off the shelf) is on the agenda, help to elect, from a system/supplier-independent point of view, is proposed
The results

Conducting interviews, reports of custom-built online assessments or surveys and poll results on well-being before and after alarm management efforts are a standard way of working according to IPCOS’ approach. Wisely defined and correctly calculated alarm performance metrics are a method to quantitatively monitor progress in alarm management (i.e. before and after bad actor analysis and alarm rationalization). Qualitative monitoring of progress is considered as valuable as numeric evaluations.

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