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Monday, September 1, 2014

Hitting the Nuisance Alarm Issue in Process Safety

Process plants and pipelines generate “thousands of alarms” every day, says Honeywell. While many of them are not serious, the company notes that they still lead to “billion-dollar” losses in the process industries due to their ineffective management.

Credit: Grant Cochrane at

Credit: Grant Cochrane at

Honeywell cites the Abnormal Situation Management (ASM) Consortium as saying the nuisance alarm problem poses increased risk of fatigue and stress for operators that eventually lead to safety incidents or process inefficiencies. They must constantly make judgments on alarm severity and response. These decisions to distinguish between process alarms and critical alarms must be made instantly.

“When operators are forced to deal with hundreds of alarms at any given point in time, there is increased risk to safety not to mention process efficiency,” said Vimal Kapur, vice president and general manager of Honeywell Process Solutions’ Advanced Solutions business. Fatigue or constant exposure to nuisance alarms can lead to dulled operator response.

A report from the U.K.-based group International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (OGP) studied the cognitive issues associated with process safety and environmental incidents. It concentrated on the pyschological processes involved in the perception and assessment of risk and of the state of plant operation. The report summarized the following as being potential issues:

- Situation awareness

- Cognitive bias in decision-making

- Interpersonal behavior

- Awareness and understanding of safety-critical human tasks.

OGP recommends that the oil and gas industry as well as other high-hazard industries strive for deeper understanding of these four areas and make improvements in them, in order to genuinely elevate safety as well as efficiency and become “high-reliability organizations.”

In essence, control operators and their managers and leaders who develop a sense of mindfulness and a “state of chronic unease” can improve their ability to detect and respond to a variety of signals. And important contributing factors in this are the avoidance of distractions, ensuring lack of fatigue, use of automation that supports critical safety task performance, and equipment user-interface design and layout.

The ASM includes companies and universities that are collaborating in research and development to create knowledge, tools, and products designed to prevent, detect, and mitigate abnormal situations in control operations that affect process safety. Its website is at

For more on the OGP study and report, go here.



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