When it Comes to Alarm Management, Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

I recently presented at the Ocean Energy Safety Institute Seminar on Focusing on Alarm Management for Safer Offshore Operations. It was exciting to hear what peers in other industries had to say regarding their approach to alarm management. The panel included professors from Texas A&M University and representatives from Schlumberger, NASA, and the chemical, petrochemical, and power industries.

At the end of the interactive day, I concluded that the alarm problem is exactly the same for all industries: we are generating too many alarms for console operators. By too many, I mean the quantity of alarms is not manageable and the operator must ignore some of them. Of course, this is not by choice, but rather due to human limitations in cognitive loading. Ignoring alarms, as we all know, is a dangerous task where sooner rather than later the “wrong” alarm is ignored and severe consequences happen.

In other words, when approaching the alarm management problem, we don’t need to spend time reinventing the wheel. Through my 15+ year career in the energy sector, time and time again I have heard representatives from each of the different industries say things such as, “we are different than X industry; we are Y industry” or “our alarm problem must be different than theirs.” What I’ve seen across industry lines is too many alarms, and on top of that they are incorrectly prioritized.

Much investment has been made in both time and money to practically achieve sustainable improvements for alarm systems. Books have been written on it. PAS’ The Alarm Management Handbook provides a field-proven methodology for approaching the problem. Much of the information available today is applicable cross-industry, so learn from it and then decide how exactly to apply it to your specific needs.

Is your company trying to reinvent the alarm management wheel?

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