Radical Alarm Reduction

Suncor Achieves 95% Reduction in Operator Alarm Load at Fort Hills Oil Sands Mine


Fast Facts

  • 194k Barrel per day production facility
  • 95% sustained reduction in alarm load since
  • 80% reduction in alarm load within months
  • From 270k to 12k alarms per month



Suncor is one of Canada’s largest integrated energy companies, specializing in the extraction of oil sand and its subsequent upgrading and refining into high-quality oil products. Headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, Suncor markets finished products to industrial and commercial customers, along with retail customers through their network of more than 1,500 Petro-Canada gas stations. Suncor’s Fort Hills mine is an open-pit truck and shovel mine that was commissioned in 2018 and capable of extracting 154,000 tons of oil sands per hour, producing 194,000 barrels of bitumen per day.


While an alarm is intended to provide control room operators with pre-warning to an abnormal situation, many new industrial sites face challenges with an “overactive” performance of their alarm system. Upon completion of commissioning of Fort Hills site in 2018, Suncor’s control room operators faced average alarm loads 30 times higher than those recommended by alarm management standards and best practices. 

These alarm loads, combined with frequent alarm floods caused by plant upsets, resulted in significant operator overload that increased the risk of safety, environmental and production related incidents at the site.


To achieve a step-change in alarm system performance, Suncor commenced an alarm system improvement initiative, electing to follow a process in-line with standards, specifically ANSI/ISA-18.2-2016, Management of Alarm Systems for the Process Industries. 

The first stage of this process was to develop an Alarm Philosophy that documented the intended approach to alarm management for the Fort Hills site so that subsequent stages of the alarm system improvement initiative were performed in a controlled and consistent manner.


The process of identifying alarms as immediate candidates for rationalization through the Monitoring & Assessment phase of the ISA 18.2 Alarm Management Lifecycle, along with the actual rationalization, detailed design, and implementation of alarm changes was enabled by a combination of formalized processes and supporting software tools - in this case the Honeywell Forge Alarm Management suite. 

From a high level, the following methodology was applied:

  • A multi-disciplinary team from departments including operations, automation, process, and reliability was formed. These team members were committed part-time from their primary roles to dedicate efforts towards achieving alarm improvement.
  • Suncor’s operational behavior disciplines of collaboration, seeking knowledge and understanding, and using a questioning attitude to surface problems was encouraged throughout the initiative. This enabled the multi-disciplinary team to find root causes of alarm issues using a shared sense of accountability to achieve their goals.
  • At the start of the initiative, daily meetings were held to identify the top five most frequently occurring alarms - or bad actors. The team would then then focus on taking these alarms through the rationalization, detailed design, and implementation stages.
  • As alarm system performance improved, meetings were reduced from daily, to twice weekly, and eventually to weekly. In addition to this, focus shifted from bad actors exclusively to other alarm issues including alarm floods, stale alarms, and shelved alarms.
  • The use of the Honeywell Forge Alarm Management suite of products was central to this process, enabling the rapid identification, investigation and subsequent rationalization and implementation of changes to reduce bad actors, alarm floods, stale alarms, and shelved alarms.


Within a month, the average alarms per operator (per 10 minutes) reduced from 30 to 12 (60%). This trend continued to only six  (an 80% reduction) in the following month. Over a period of two years, the team has successfully achieved and sustained a 95% reduction in alarm load that is in-line with ISA 18.2 standards. There have been ups and downs in average alarm counts along the way, but according to Suncor, this highlights that “alarm management is a continuous process that with diligence makes it possible to achieve and sustain alarm system performance in accordance with standards”.

To put the scale of the improvements achieved into perspective, in May 2018 Fort Hills had nearly 270,000 alarm annunciations, with the top 5 bad actors contributing to 40% of the alarm system load. This is compared to 12,000 alarm annunciations in April 2020, with the top 5 bad actors contributing to 15% of the alarm system load. 

According to Suncor, “the speed of improvement and the ability to sustain alarm system performance would not have been possible without the use of Honeywell Forge Alarm Management as part of our ongoing alarm improvement initiatives. The tools helped to direct our team’s efforts to improve and sustain alarm system performance so that they were able to achieve the benefits of reduced safety, environmental and production related risks while also increasing uptime.”


The Honeywell Forge Alarm Management portfolio is a suite of control system agnostic offerings that enable industrial organizations to understand, improve and sustain alarm and safety system performance. Using Honeywell Forge Alarm Management, organizations can cut through the noise to demonstrate compliance, increase operator effectiveness, and minimize operational risk across their industrial operations.

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