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The pandemic might feel like it’s winding down for most of us, but inside our country’s ICUs, alarm bells are ringing. That is partly just the nature of intensive care units. Alarms beep. Lights flash. It’s a hectic place. But at some point, the large number of alarms can overwhelm healthcare workers, and that’s a problem.

One study found noise levels in surgical units could reach almost 100 decibels. That’s like having a heavy truck idling in the same room where doctors are trying to perform surgery. Does that sound safe?

This is just one example of the types of problems that arise when alarm systems aren’t designed for the people using them. In a hospital, the people operating the alarms are healthcare workers, but the same applies to manufacturing facilities or any other workplace with an alarm system. Alarms should help employees do their jobs better, not make them more difficult. Designing an operator-centric alarm system is key to lowering operator fatigue and improving performance.

What is an Operator-Centric System?

Operators are the businesses and individuals who actively use alarms. They’re the most important stakeholders in alarm management, yet these systems are often designed without their direct involvement. An operator-centric alarm system, therefore, is implemented with them in mind.

This system isn’t only about the hardware. It should also include a set of procedures that are easy for operators to follow. Communication and training are necessary so workers know what to do and who is responsible when an alarm goes off. Be sure to communicate guidelines to help operators diagnose what caused the alarm. This is especially true for fast-paced workplaces where response times are critical.

Steps for Creating an Operator-Centric Alarm System

In order to implement an alarm system that truly works for operators, follow these steps:

  • Identify who they are. Frontline operators are obvious people to start with, but they may not be the only ones. Everyone who works with the alarm system or uses information from it should be included in the design process.
  • Ask users what works and what doesn’t. What are their pain points? Alarms that are too sensitive can cause operator fatigue. Fix this by reviewing alarm setpoints with team members. Alarms that aren’t sensitive enough also pose a problem. Operators should be able to prioritize alarms based on their urgency.
  • Train operators to use the new alarm system. Answer any questions they may have. Make sure everyone understands their role in the new system.
  • Be ready to make more changes. No system is perfect, and as operators adopt the new process, they will discover kinks and improvements to make.
  • Review the alarm management system often and include worker input. Alarm management is not a “set it and forget it” process. As the organization changes, so should the alarm management system.

An Operator-Centric Alarm System Will Support The Team

An operator-centric alarm system will make the workplace safer and more efficient. False alarms are a distraction that operators don’t need. In hospitals, it can be a matter of life or death. At the start of the pandemic, when personal protective equipment (PPE) was scarce, hospital workers couldn’t afford to waste PPE every time an alarm went off. Given that 72-99% of all alarms in a clinical setting are false, healthcare workers learned which alarms to prioritize in order to do their jobs.

The industry has recognized the danger of alarm fatigue and is working to make hospital alarm systems more operator-centric. Why not apply their hard-earned wisdom to every other industry?

When employees feel confident their alarm system is doing its job, they can focus on doing theirs. It’s important that employees know they can trust their alarm system without having to second guess it.

Where to Start?

Designing an alarm system that works for employees doesn’t have to be hard, and you don’t have to do it alone. The experts at TiPS Incorporated are here to help. LogMate® software is an automated system that makes designing an operator-centric alarm system a breeze. LogMate® features a suite of flexible modular tools to fit your needs. The software allows you to manage your entire alarm system from a single interface, including tracking and performance monitoring. Contact the experts at TiPS today to learn more.