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Control room alarm rationalisation: optimising operator situation awareness through alarm management

Alarm rationalisation is often seen as the process of reducing the number of control room alarms that present to a control room operator (CRO), during normal and abnormal operating conditions, down to levels that are manageable, so that the CRO is able to respond to each alarm appropriately, timely and correctly, without the need for disengaging ‘nuisance’ alarms or resorting to other means.  EEMUA 191 Alarm systems: A guide to design, management and procurement is a common standard many organisations work towards.

However, Energy Institute (EI) members have raised concern that conducting an alarm rationalisation is not a straightforward exercise, particularly when considering the human factors (HF) aspects of alarms, namely that alarms should be optimised to support CROs maintain situation awareness of the happenings of the plant.  Whilst EEMUA 191 does contain guidance to help do this, additional guidance has been sought to help ensure that, in particular, high priority alarms can be assessed against HF principles.

The EI Human and Organiational Factors Committee (HOFCOM) commissioned Guidance for optimising operator plant situational awareness by rationalising control room alarms to do just this.  This publication can be seen as a companion guide to EEMUA 191 to support organisations working towards the alarm targets set out in EEMUA 191. It provides:

  • brief introductions to alarms and situation awareness;
  • concise guidance on aspects of alarms that should be considered, other than the number of alarms, particularly in relation to situation awareness;
  • brief overview and guidance in relation to EEMUA 191 alarm metrics, and
  • a practical tool to help assess the usability of individual alarms.

The alarm usability assessment is the main deliverable of this publication.  It is a simple tool, with accompanying guidance, allowing high priority alarms (or problematic alarms) to be assessed against a simple five-stage model of how a CRO acknowledges, interprets and responds to alarms. Use of the tool will allow organisations to understand and prepare to make improvements to individual alarms and, in some cases, to the alarm system as a whole.  This should be seen as a complimentary approach to just simply reducing alarm numbers.

This publication is intended to be used by individuals with responsibility for designing, maintaining and improving alarm systems (e.g. safety engineers, process engineers, plant operators and supervisors). The primary focus is the influence of human factors on alarm handling, rather than system engineering aspects, therefore, users of this publication should not require any specific technical background.

How to access this publication

Guidance for optimising operator plant situational awareness by rationalising control room alarms (free download for registered users - registration is free - or priced hard copy)

Further resources

Illustrative example of an alarm usability review - full version of the worked example presented in Annex D of the main publication.

Alarm usability form - blank template - a blank template to use when conducting your own alarm usability assessments.