HOF in alarm design
About this topic
Alarm systems are used to communicate indications of abnormal process conditions or equipment malfunctions to system operators in order to support a response. It is important that alarms are well designed so that they produce the required response.
Relevance to rail
Alarms are used in many railway operational and maintenance environments to alert the driver, signaller or maintainer to a potentially dangerous situation. If the alarm system frequently raises false or unnecessary alarms, the operator or maintainer may start to ignore alarms that are raised on the basis that they are usually false alarms. This can lead to a risk that a real alarm is undetected by the operator. The alarm must also be clear and unambiguous so that the operator can understand and react to it appropriately.
Approaches and models
EN 62682 (2015) describes an approach to designing alarm systems so that they support and do not overwhelm operators. The approach is centred around the development of an alarm strategy for the system or environment which documents all the events to be alarmed, what they indicate and the potential consequences of leaving the situation unaddressed, the response they require from the operator, and the timeframe the response is required within. Based on this information, the alarms can be prioritised with only the most important alarms given strong attention-grabbing properties such as flashing lights or audible tones. The presentation of the alarm must be carefully considered in the context of the environment and the rest of the system. For example, audible tones are not suitable for noisy environments, and visual alarms must be located where the operator will be able to see them.
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