The primary function of an alarm is to alert an operator to an abnormal situation requiring a timely response to prevent further escalation of the condition.
The alarm system is a safety barrier, which not only provides a layer of protection for personnel and the environment but also helps improve production availability through the early identification of a potentially more significant equipment failure or process upset. Efficient alarm operation relies on managing the alarm in such a manner that it aids the operator i.e. it is relevant, concise and has a defined response.
There are numerous historic examples where bad alarm management has had a catastrophic effect on life, the environment or a business’s liquidity (e.g. Three Mile Island (USA), Longford Gas (Australia), Texas City (USA), Buncefield (UK)) and this has resulted in the introduction of industry guidance and standards based upon lessons learned, such as EEMUA 191, BS:EN 62682:2015 and the ASM Guidelines.
In 2015, the alarm system performance of a major international oil and gas exploration and production company was the subject of a senior management audit against company corporate standards and guidelines. The audit concluded that with over 27,000 configured alarms, 800 standing alarms, frequent daily alarm counts of more than 7,000 alarms in 24 hours and alarm flood issues associated with major equipment trips, that the alarm system had failed to meet the company’s own key performance indicators.