Alarms are a critical part of every production process — but not all of them are created equal. An alarm could indicate an immediate source of pressing concern. It could flag a potentially damaging machine or process issue that could derail production and cause serious safety concerns. However, with alarms sounding all the time and from all directions, it’s easy for even the most experienced operator to get overwhelmed and miss critical corrective action steps.
To ensure that no critical alarm goes unaddressed, plant operators must follow established best practices for alarm responses. The latest technologies provide intuitive, effective electronic methods for responding to alarms, and with available mobile options, this can be done anywhere and at any time. But what should those technologies be used to do?
Following these three best practices will allow operators to focus their attention on alarms that really matter.
1) Review plant alarm philosophy
Before getting started, operators should understand the lay of the land. Reviewing your plant’s alarm philosophy reveals how well your alarm system matches your current equipment and requirements, which may have shifted over time. There are several ways to accomplish this: third-party software systems, a manual analysis of alarm logs, or the assistance of a qualified systems integrator, who can offer solutions on a case-by-case basis.
2) Digitize the most critical alarms
After your team has completed the alarm rationalization process, the next step is to identify the alarms with the highest business impact. These could include alarms that directly affect the environment, personnel safety, production outages, brand damage or other critical areas of operation. To respond appropriately to these alarms, you’ll most likely need to involve personnel beyond the control system. This means that your entire corrective action work process must be well managed — especially steps that require regulatory compliance. Electronic workflow systems that digitize alarm response procedures are the simplest way to handle this.
3) Monitor and improve
Once alarm response procedures are digitized and integrated into your operations, it’s time for daily management and improvement. This includes achieving real-time visibility of currently working corrective actions across the plant, implementing and responding to electronic notifications, and escalating issues when corrective action isn’t taken promptly.
Once alarm responses are completed, it’s important to look at the plant’s execution history and review how effectively alarms were responded to over a period of time: how long it took, who did what, when responses were late. These historical records are critical for regulatory compliance. When you’re called on to show a record of how your team corrected a problem, you’ll be glad of an execution history to turn to.
Implementing the right alarm response procedures is one step on the road to safe, effective plant management. But alarms are only useful if they respond accurately to plant conditions, and if operators can identify and respond to them effectively. Improving a plant’s alarm management strategy will likely involve committing to digitizing alarm response procedures, but it can make a big difference in consistently and effectively responding to critical incidents.