Emerging ISA Standard Basis for Alarm Management Strategy

The International Society of Automation’s ISA S18.02 standard provides a much needed, standardized framework for implementing an effective and sustainable alarm management strategy in process plants.

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Alarm management continues to be a serious issue for process automation end-users. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an average of $20 billion is lost in the U.S. manufacturing industry every year due to abnormal conditions. Forty percent of these incidents can be directly attributable to human error.
 
Until recently, there has been little in the way of standards activities relative to alarm management. Certain groups, such as the Engineering Equipment and Materials Users Association (EEMUA) and NAMUR, an international association of process automation technology users, have outlined best practices for alarm management, but there have been no formal standards development activities.

The industry needs a standard, simply because the overall state of process alarming is shabby at best. Today’s operators are swamped with alarms, only some of which require any real action to be taken. Many operators have reached the point where they spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with alarms. The situation is only going to get worse as alarms and alerts start coming in from plant asset management systems, intelligent field devices, fieldbus-based safety systems and other sources.
 
The ISA S18.02 standards development activity provides end-users with a blueprint for developing an effective alarm management strategy. Once finalized, this standard has the potential to greatly reduce the number of incidents in process plants, and will have a major impact on unplanned downtime and profitability. ISA S18.02 is directed at people who use control systems, and prescribes a lifecycle-based approach to managing alarms. It guides end-users through the process of establishing a lifecycle program in which alarms are set up and rationalized in a consistent manner.
 
ISA S18.02 does not tell automation suppliers how to design their alarm systems; but it does help them make modifications to their alarm management solutions that will allow end-users to put together their own alarm management program or strategy. The next generation of alarm management solutions will provide more metrics, offer improved identification of alarm floods, and provide easier hooks to metrics that will allow users to access the data they need.
 
ISA S18.02 outlines best practices for alarm strategy development for both new plants and existing facilities. ISA S18.02 covers all aspects of alarm strategy development, from alarm philosophy to rationalization, detailed design, implementation, operation, maintenance, management of change, monitoring and assessment, and auditing. The standard also builds on the fine work already done by the Abnormal Situation Management Consortium (ASM), EEMUA and NAMUR. In fact, there was a formal liaison between NAMUR and the EEMUA committees when establishing the S18.02 standard.
 
State of the standard

The ISA S18.02 standard is very close to becoming finalized. The most recent ballot results at the Oct. 31 meetings showed that 74 percent of responding members approved the standard, and the standard has been provisionally approved by the committee, pending the incorporation of comments. The final standard could be available by the end of this summer.

ARC anticipates that regulatory bodies, the insurance industry and other concerns will adopt ISA S18.02 as a basis for examining customer practices in alarm management as they relate to overall process safety and sustainability. These organizations have not yet had a standard against which to measure company performance in alarm management.

Larry O’Brien, lobrien@arcweb.com, is Research Director at ARC Advisory Group Inc., in Dedham, Mass.

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