Operator Involvement in Alarm Management

Dec. 22, 2011
Members of the Automation World LinkedIn group weigh in with their thoughts on the involvement, or lack thereof, of process operators in the alarm management process.

One of the more interesting discoveries to come out of the Automation World alarm management research was to learn how few operators are involved in the process of identifying and specifying alarms and alarm management practices. Considering that operators are on the frontlines of alarms, one would think they would play a big role in the process.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.
After learning how widespread the lack of operator involvement is, we put the following question to our Automation World LinkedIn group: Are operators at your facility engaged in alarm management and system specification?
Kevin Patel, project manager and automation engineer at CDM, an environmental services engineering company in Dallas, Texas, says, “I am currently working in the water/wastewater industry and the simple answer here is no. I think all facilities recognize that there is a problem, but it is difficult for them to line up the resources to give alarm management the attention that is needed. When it comes to available resources or the additional funding needed, a cost vs. benefit analysis needs to be provided. The decision makers for funding don't usually see the problems with alarm management, as they may never be in the facility.”
Describing the process of documenting alarm sources and dealing with all alarms as part of a company-wide alarm management philosophy is a very lengthy and cumbersome process that should be dealt at the engineering stage because it is seldom audited when plants are commissioned, says Fernando Granier, owner of Interlog, a Chile-based paper manufacturer.
Granier adds that operators are not always involved in the process because “factors like safety and fixed asset protection are commonly overlooked by operators since they are concerned with production variables. Operators are a good feedback source when it comes to trimming the alarm management process, but you also have to incorporate the maintenance and safety folks.”
Offering advice on a helpful alarm management resource, Joe Kaulfersch, market analyst at Pepperl + Fuchs, Cleveland, Ohio, suggests that engineers and operators check out the book "Alarm Management for Process Control" by Douglas Rothenberg. Kaulfersch says it is the most complete book on the subject. 
“How many times have you experienced an alarm storm? What do you do first? This book explains how to design an efficient system that is manageable,” Kaulfersch says. “It is well written and very easy to read. Any technical person from a technician to plant manager must read this book.”

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