Alarms provide vital signals to ensure that a process stays within its safe operating envelope. But when they’re too many, they can lead to unnecessary noise that can distract your operators and cause mistakes.
Managing your alarms effectively requires tools like an Alarm Response Procedure tool. This helps you take your alarm rationalization and turn it into actionable configuration requirements for the control system.
1. Listen to the Alarm
Alarms provide an essential link between plant conditions and operator action. But they can only be effective if the information they convey is accurate and if the operators can understand, identify, and respond to them in a timely fashion.
Ideally, an alarm should communicate only the occurrence of an event or condition that requires an operator response. Moreover, each alarm should be identified with a distinct operator response to prevent confusion. Alarms that don’t have an associated response should not be generated.
The alarm management life cycle includes the following activities:
Rationalization: The review and justification of each alarm to determine its attributes and required configuration requirements. This includes the identification of the alarm management philosophy, limits, alarm priorities, and classification.
Implementation: Developing and deploying the necessary tools and processes to enable each team member to identify and respond to alarms in a timely manner. This includes the development of alarm lists, dashboards, and alerting software to provide appropriate information to all team members.
Monitoring: Ensuring that all critical alarms are received by a trained operator and responded to consistently and promptly. This also includes ensuring that all alarms are accounted for at the end of each shift.
Testing: Performing periodic tests to ensure the alarm system functions properly. This can include the use of an external tester.
Educating: Providing training for each team member to increase awareness and knowledge of the alarm system and its functions. This can include topics like the meaning of different types of alarms, how to prioritize and handle them, and best practices for reducing sensor fatigue.
Improving clinical alarm systems is a key goal of hospital administrators and a requirement for facilities seeking The Joint Commission’s patient safety accreditation. Unnecessary alarms and noise can cause sensory overload for patients, leaving them unable to sleep at night and increasing the risk of ICU delirium and psychosis. Incorporating a few innovative solutions can help facility managers cut out unnecessary monitor and device noises to improve patient satisfaction and outcomes.
2. Assess the Situation
When alarms occur, it’s essential to quickly evaluate the situation and take action. This allows you to avoid false activations and unnecessary police dispatches and can also help reduce damage and minimize insurance premiums.
If you’re certain the alarm is false, try contacting the homeowner or business owner as soon as possible. This will save you the cost of a costly police response and prevent criminals from running away before being stopped.
This is especially important if you work in an environment where alarm fatigue is common. Alarm fatigue can result from too many alarms, too often, in a short period of time, and can impact an operator’s cognitive function. This can make identifying critical alarms difficult and lead to improper or delayed responses.
Educate staff on the best practices for handling alarms in their area. Train new employees and provide ongoing refresher training. Keep operating instructions near the alarm keypad and remove moveable objects from motion detector sensors (e.g., advertising banners).
Consider having a contracted online monitoring service that can send an alarm response team to your home or workplace when the alarm is activated. These teams are equipped with GPS mapping devices to quickly and easily find the alarmed location and respond to the threat. This will greatly increase the likelihood of burglars being stopped before they can cause damage or steal your valuables and may also help lower your insurance premiums and/or prevent thefts altogether.
Carefully maintain your call list for the central station to use when the alarm activates. Over time, the call list may get out-of-date, and this can delay the knowledge of an alarm to you or your local authorities. Many central stations will call 2 numbers on the contact list before calling the police, and this can add a significant amount of time to the overall response.
Improving a plant’s alarm response procedures requires a commitment to digitizing them and integrating them into daily operations. Taking the right actions can help prevent alarm fatigue, ensure that critical alarms are not overlooked, and lead to reduced plant excursions and equipment damage.
3. Take Action
When an alarm is activated, it needs to be responded to immediately. A monitoring center should be able to confirm that the alarm is genuine and notify the appropriate authorities in an effective time frame. This is the best way to minimize damage and reduce the risk of an intruder entering the premises after hours.
Alarms that are not properly responded to can lead to a number of consequences, including safety risks, environmental impact, and brand damage. As such, it’s important that any digitized workflow system you use for managing corrective action work processes incorporates steps to ensure that critical alarm responses are addressed promptly.
A well-designed, intuitive electronic system will also make it easy for team members to verify that the alarm is valid and to respond to it. This can be achieved by utilizing visual confirmation of an alarm, such as a video doorbell or two-way audio communication with the control room. Additionally, an integrated system should allow you to disable the alarms while a team member investigates and mitigates the problem. This will eliminate the possibility of a false alarm being triggered by another occurrence within the plant, such as a power failure or water leak.
It is possible that a business will need to respond to a security alarm outside of its normal operating hours, particularly if it has been triggered by a break-in. In these cases, a 24-hour alarm monitoring service should be used to ensure that the alarm is dealt with immediately, which will protect the property and minimize any potential damage or loss of revenue.
Many clinical alarms are unnecessary, creating a sensory overload in hospital units that makes it difficult for nurses to focus on patient care. Noise from monitors, infusion pumps, and other devices can create alarm fatigue, reducing response to real concerns. This can result in missed critical events or even patient deaths.
Reducing the number of non-actionable alarms is a key national patient safety goal established by The Joint Commission, and facilities seeking accreditation will need to address this issue to demonstrate compliance. One option is limiting the number of alarms each nurse is exposed to by limiting the frequency at which ECG and pulse oximetry sensors emit measurements. Providing training and education on best practices for alarm management is also helpful in reducing unnecessary alarms.
4. Follow Up
Alarms can be a significant source of distraction for workers. When they occur frequently, they can cause employees to become desensitized to them, and the result is that they either ignore them or fail to respond quickly to them. This can lead to unsafe conditions, environmental excursions, or equipment damage.
One key to effective alarm response is establishing and following clear procedures. One way to do this is by creating an alarm response plan that includes a detailed description of each type of incident and identifies who is responsible for what actions when an alarm occurs.
It’s also important to maintain call lists so that when an alarm does occur, the proper people are notified as quickly as possible. Call lists should be updated regularly, and unused numbers should be removed. Otherwise, the central station might attempt to call an out-of-service number, which can delay the knowledge of the incident reaching the right people.
Another part of an alarm response plan is having processes in place to record and evaluate the incident once it’s been resolved. This can help managers identify common causes of incidents, such as equipment failures or operator errors. It can also inform future preventive or corrective action plans.
In some industries and countries, alarm management can be a regulatory requirement. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Process Safety Management (PSM) program requires that companies develop and implement an alarm management system, and the EPA and FDA Risk Management Program (RMP) require a documented Alarm Handling Policy. These requirements can be met using the ISA or IEC standard or API RP1167, which is based on ISA-18.2.
Although alarm management is not a cure-all for all human factors problems, it can reduce nuisance alarms and help prevent operational accidents by improving operational discipline, thereby resulting in lower equipment failure rates, less quality degradation and environmental excursions and reduced maintenance costs. In addition, a well-implemented alarm management strategy can reduce the time operators spend dealing with unnecessary alarms, allowing them to focus on more important work tasks.