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Introduction to Alarm Management

In our last newsletter we addressed some motivators for the development of a philosophy, which you can read here.

Now that you’re on board with having a philosophy, let’s make sure you’ve got the contents right. At a minimum, the requirements listed in Clause 6.2 in ANSI/ISA 18.2 or Clause 6.2.1 in IEC 62682 needs to be included. The table below details those requirements.

If you are in the liquid and gas transmission pipeline industry, you are probably more comfortable with the guidance provided by the American Petroleum Institute.

18.2 Table

Philosophy Article #2 carHowever, those are just the minimum requirements. We asked subject matter experts to identify critical components of alarm philosophies which are often overlooked or omitted. If you’re not including these, you’re doing yourself, and your facility, a disservice.

Ensuring your alarms are documented in your philosophy is important, but you have to make sure you’ve organized them as well. Have you noted the differences in your alarms? Are they each assigned a specific priority?

Priority Matrix - Alarm Priority is determined through the analysis of two factors: severity of the consequences of inaction and the urgency. All the best practice guides say a prioritization method is a REQUIRED component of a philosophy. Although the matrix is not specifically mentioned in the best practice documentation, it is a proven methodology for displaying and conveying acceptable settings.

“The most critical omission I have noted has been the absence of a priority matrix that keeps consistency for sense of urgency and consequence. Without that, each participant in the rationalization may come up with differing priorities for an alarm parameter. ” – Mike Lyssy

A priority matrix is a leadership tool. It serves as a visual guide for the alarm management team. The matrix declares the position of the team and removes the ambiguity or vague language.

Sarah Manelick of aeSolutions provides a short list of items whose priority is often neglected: “This includes things such as PHMSA (safety critical) related alarms, PHA/LOPA alarms, fire and gas alarms, etc.”

Creating an alarm philosophy provides a great opportunity for you to get your alarms in order – organized and easy to handle by your operators.

philosophy article #2 pic2Auditing your Philosophy - However, organizing your alarms once isn’t going to cut it. Auditing your alarm management processes periodically is extremely important as well.

The objective of the Audit phase of the Alarm Management Lifecycle is to maintain the integrity of the alarm system and the alarm management processes. The audit should examine the organizations performance against the alarm philosophy and identify improvements. Improvements can also include modifications to the alarm philosophy. Marcus Dudoit of SYCON International explains: “Often the amount of work required to initially deploy an alarm management program is underestimated and end-users often run out of steam before they get to the audit phase of the alarm management lifecycle. However, periodically auditing the alarm management processes is vital in ensuring that the systems do not devolve into poor performance again; a virtual certainty if the agreed upon processes and procedures defined in the alarm philosophy are not diligently followed.”

Additionally, ISA 18.2 recommends that you audit your alarm philosophy periodically as well.

Auditing the philosophy allows you to correct mistakes or address changes. Not analyzing and correcting paralyzes your future. An unaddressed gap in a philosophy document could leave errors in place, possibly leading to major problems.

Industry Specific Alarm Situations and Classes - Although there are certain things that must be included in every philosophy, occasionally alarm philosophies have followed cookie cutter templates without taking into account industry specific issues.

For example, API 1167 specifically mentions, “Considerations for alarms routed to multiple locations and personnel.” However, in preparation for PHMSA inspections, safety critical alarms tend to be the major focus for liquid and gas transmission pipelines alarm management plans (philosophies). Addressing issues related to the routing of alarms to multiple locations and personnel does not always get the same care.

In some chemical industries philosophies, John Rudd from Wingtip has found that highly managed alarms have not been adequately addressed in the alarm philosophy:

“In many facilities in the chemical manufacturing industry, Chemical Process Safety (CPS) policies are developed and rigorously enforced. These policies include how the processes are to be controlled and have well defined alarm specifications. When the alarm philosophy document is developed, it is best to group the alarms covered by the CPS policy into a single class in the area of highly managed alarms. This class will then be recognized and managed by the CPS policy adhering to the policy’s management of change procedures (policy section incorporated in the APD by reference).”

In pharmaceutical and other regulated industries, product quality class alarms are the big deal. Developing the product quality topic to address the common alarm management requirements of this class sufficiently within a philosophy is critical – think of an FDA 483 for failure to detect and document quality related process deviations, and formal investigation prior to product disposition. Regulatory impact of the product quality class should have a level of detail that is distinct from other production alarms. Dr Joseph Alford further explains:

“Alarms related to product quality in regulated industries typically represent product or process deviations that must be formally investigated (e.g., as required in cGMPs) to determine if the manufactured material associated with the deviation can be marketed. So, the specification, design, rationalization, testing, and documentation of such alarms are critically important. E.g., the determination of product quality process parameter alarm limits is typically a function of the “proven acceptable range” of a process parameter, which in turn is a function of a critical product quality attribute. These limits sometimes need to be adjusted for measurement, uncertainty, and normal operator response time.”

The contents of your philosophy are just as important as the existence of a philosophy. With the proper guidance, you can make sure that your philosophy is working for your facility, not against it. If you would like assistance in assessing your current alarm philosophy, or still need a little help getting started on developing one, click here to request a conference with a Subject Matter Expert.