Why Should I do Anything about it?

“Between the great things we cannot do and the small things we will not do, the danger is that we shall do nothing.” Adolphe Monod (1802 - 1856)

Regulatory Compliance

ISA-18.2 is considered a "recognized and generally accepted good engineering practice" and thus enforceable by U.S. regulatory agencies. EEMUA is in a similar position. For this reason alone, you really want to be able to show that you meet the guidelines, or have a program in place whose aim is to achieve compliance.

The HSE have published an extract from their inspector’s toolkit which can be found here

How well can you answer the questions?

Insurance

Insurance companies are starting to ask “What Alarm Management Systems have you in place?” – and your premiums will depend on how well you can answer this question. If this is true for you; then you have a clear mandate to implement an Alarm Management program.

Productivity

It is very difficult to prove, but if your plant has minor trips and incidents a poorly performing Alarm System will almost certainly be making them more frequent and more prolonged. EEMUA 191 A16.10 has the following graph:

example

This is a plot of plant performance over time. The losses in red are likely to be greater than gains from advanced control in green. EEMUA 191 states that a study on 3 plants showed that these losses accounted for 3-8% of plant throughput. Now, a good alarm system is not going to make these losses disappear, but it might prevent 1 in 10, and is likely to make the incidents shorter and less severe.

If you are, or can, get involved in incident reviews on your plant make some effort to look at them from an Alarm point of view:

Was there an appropriate alarm that was not responded to correctly?

If there was no tell-tale alarm prior to the incident, why not, and could there have been?

Was there an ever increasing flood of alarms covering up important alarms?

Was start-up delayed because the cause of the incident was not known, and the alarm journals recorded nothing conclusive?

It is very likely that there will have been some way that the Alarm System either contributed to the incident, or failed to aid its diagnosis. Find this out and add it to your business case.

Employee Wellbeing

This may seem obvious, but a control room with constantly ringing alarms is a much more stressful place to work than one which is quiet. You have a duty to your operators to give them a pleasant working environment.

It should also be considered that if an operator is spending time dealing with nuisance alarms, then he is not doing something else; setting the plant to optimum conditions, writing daily reports and handovers, dealing with permits etc. These other tasks will not be performed as well as they could if the operator is distracted, and this must have some economic impact, albeit quite small.

Worst Case Scenario

It is very unlikely, and I sincerely hope it never happens to you, but it is well documented that several major incidents had poor alarm systems as a contributory factor. In itself, the alarm system may not have been the direct cause, but had it been working properly, the incident might never have happened.

Most incidents are caused by many simultaneous failures of equipment and procedures, and the alarm system is only one of these. You’ll probably never know if the alarm system has prevented a major incident, but if one occurs, and the alarm system was at fault; you’ll know, and it is very likely that someone will be held accountable.