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Understanding the Risk Related to Alarm Management

In a HAZOPS-style approach to alarm management – you call your best friends into a room and beat up the alarm configuration until it is properly designed for the way the plant runs. This takes a lot of time and resources, including personnel from various departments. Sometimes this type of rationalization can be justified – especially after you have already demonstrated the value of nuisance alarm reduction. Or you may find that the costs are not warranted when measured against the anticipated risk reduction.

After performing a HAZOPS-style alarm rationalization you have attained a state of lowest amount of investment at risk due to alarm management problems (within the constraints of the technology available to you). The risk will creep back up if you simply do an alarm management PROJECT, and do not embrace the activity of alarm management as a continuous PROCESS.

If you limit alarm management to assessing only nuisance alarms and continue to use that approach, the risk is not reduced as rapidly as in a HAZOPS-style project, and the total risk reduction opportunity is more limited. However, a nuisance-focused approach has the added value that since it is continuous, the alarm-related risk is consistently being reduced. Also, the short-term impact on risk may actually be more aggressive than a HAZOPS-style approach because you are initially attacking the alarms that are causing blatant problems as opposed to waiting for the results of the completed project.

Industry feedback suggests that both methods eventually arrive at the same result in about the same time due to the difficulties in stabilizing operating team reactions to the radically changed environment following a HAZOPS-style rationalization. Changes to the alarm settings and how the system operates sometimes make for a new operating paradigm. That paradigm shift must be transferred to operators for them to understand how they must deal with the changes. This is why we normally advocate that this problem is best handled within operations, with their oversight, and control.