Human Factors - Alarms Management

Alarm management refers to the automated treatment of alarms. Poorly designed alarm systems may hinder the operator and may result in failure to identify a need to act, or failure to select an effective course of action, especially in emergency conditions. However, alarm systems can be redesigned, either by physically changing them or by training the operators to use them better. Companies should consider changes to improve responses to alarms and therefore improve safety.

Indicators of issues with alarms may include:

  • Alarms that remain active for significant periods of time.
  • Minor operating upsets generating a significant amount of alarm activity.
  • When there is a significant operating upset it generates an unmanageable amount of alarm activity.
  • When nothing is wrong, there are active alarms.
  • Seemingly routine operations produce a significant amount of alarm activity, which serve no useful purpose.
  • An alarm occurring without the need for operator action or the operator is unsure of what to do about them.


"For good practice, alarms should be:

  • Contextually relevant i.e., correct, not spurious or of low operational value.
  • Unique and not duplicating another alarm.
  • Timely i.e. provide adequate time for response.
  • Prioritised, thus indicating the importance to the operator dealing with the problem.
  • Understandable i.e., the alarm message is clear and easily recognised."

Featured Resources

Human Factors Alarms Management - Regulatory Requirements

Regulator Guide - Offshore

  • Where operator response to an alarm is relied upon to manage a major risk, these have been identified and risk assessed to assure the response will be reliable.
  • The design of the alarm system takes account of HF good practice standards.
  • The performance of the alarm system is monitored and maintained e.g. KPIs are used.
  • Alarm response procedures are available, used and provide all the information required by the operator.
  • Training and competence arrangements are in place for those interacting with the alarm system e.g. practice with less frequent and unusual scenarios / alarms.

Onshore COMAH

  • Established local policies for HF design, based on relevant good practice (e.g. site-specific standards for the design and management of process alarms in line with EEMUA 19117).
  • Where there is reliance on people to respond to high-priority alarms, analyses have explored sub-tasks associated with alarm handling (detection; diagnosis; planning; action) in the context of time available to respond.
  • Defined, and is monitoring, key performance indicators (e.g. alarm metrics; user feedback about HCI; findings from investigations).


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