When Alarm Fatigue Sets In, Take These Three Steps

When Alarm Fatigue Sets In, Take These Three Steps

Kyle Krueger | Thursday, September 5, 2019

With the broader adoption of multi-gas instruments comes more alarms. Sometimes lots of them. And sometimes, users wish to have different alarm tones so they can differentiate “the ones that matter.” While this request comes with good intentions, it signals something dangerous: alarm fatigue.

Manufacturers use one alarm tone to indicate all gas hazards, but with varied frequency or volume for Low/High/TWA/STEL warnings. An alarm for carbon monoxide (CO) sounds the same as an alarm for Lower Explosive Limit (LEL), oxygen (O2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and so on.

This is by design.

While manufacturers could develop custom alarm tones to indicate specific gas hazards, the fact is that all alarms are warning you of dangerous conditions while there is still time to act.

Truly understanding gas hazards and gas detection technology can be a challenge (but there is training for that), so gas detectors are designed to simply, clearly, and quickly alert you to the presence of dangerous conditions.  

How to Fight Alarm Fatigue

If you or your team have dreamed of different alarm tones for different gases, you’re facing gas detection alarm fatigue. The good news is you can fight back against alarm fatigue by taking these three steps:

1. Review your data: Industrial Scientific customers can review historical alarm data in iNet®Control to see the number alarm events and other trends. Do you see employees shutting off devices while in alarm? Are workers reporting false alarms? Investigate false alarms and address expectations during an alarm event so workers know that when a gas detector goes into alarm, they need to trust it and take action.

2. Review your alarm set points: The manufacturer’s default alarm settings might not be appropriate for your industry or application. After researching your company’s protocols and OSHA’s guidelines, you may choose to adjust your alarm set points. Before you do that, you should also understand that alarm set points are often established lower to account for the time it takes for a sensor to respond to a gas. This means that if a monitor is registering rapidly increasing levels of a gas, the monitor will alert the user of a high gas concentration slightly before the sensor registers the full concentration. This creates a safety buffer.

If you are adjusting your high alarm, pay special attention to your low alarm. If you adjust your high alarm set point, but keep your low alarm set point as-is, this won’t help. While the low alarm is typically less intense, it can sound the same to the untrained ear.

If you make any adjustments, talk to your team about the changes and the behavior you expect moving forward.

3. Change your processes: This includes (but is not limited to) changing the way people work, isolating them from hazards, replacing the hazards, or physically removing hazards. The hierarchy of controls is a great way to improve safety in your organization.

If you or your workers are ignoring lifesaving alerts, it’s important to learn about the function and purpose of gas detectors and take action before alarm fatigue becomes a chronic problem.