- By Melissa Landon
- September 21, 2021
David Strobhar, one of three ISA Fellows named in 2021, is being honored for applying human factors in control system human machine interfaces and alarm management to improve safety and productivity.
David Strobhar has worked in the area of human factors in automation for the past 37 years. He founded a human factors consulting company, helped develop the ISA 18.2 standard (IEC 62682), wrote the book Human Factors in Process Plant Operation as well as more than 25 papers, and established the Center for Operator Performance.
Now David Strobhar has been named a 2021 ISA Fellow, one of three honored by the International Society of Automation for his long-time contributions.
In 1984, Strobhar started a company, Beville Operator Performance Specialists, Inc., to provide alarm rationalization, which is the process of evaluating the purpose and value or each alarm. Before these services were offered, alarm systems were often impeding—rather than helping—operations because operators were dealing with alarm floods (too many alarms going off at once).
Strobhar said getting the company off the ground involved about six months of cold calling to determine if there was a market for human factors in the refining and chemical business. Eventually, he did some projects for free to demonstrate what he could do. Now, 38 years later, about 75% of Beville’s work is with refineries and 25% involves base chemical plants, pipelines and production facilities.
“We were doing alarm rationalization before anyone else had a term for it,” said Strobhar. “There was a definite need for it. Now, a whole slew of other organizations have popped up to try to meet that need.”
Strobhar became active in the International Society of Automation (ISA) around 2005 when ISA 18.2, the ISA standard about alarm rationalization, began development. Strobhar helped with the formation of the standard; he assisted in editing the rationalization clause and reviewed the rest of the document. Ultimately, ISA 18.2 was adopted by the international community as well.
Strobhar said working on the ISA 18.2 standard has afforded him credibility in the field. “When people ask who you are, and you say you’re on ISA’s alarm management committee, they’re going to think, ‘I guess you know something about alarms!’” he said.
In 2007, Strobhar helped launch the Center for Operator Performance, a diverse group of industry, vendor and academia representatives addressing human capabilities and limitations with research, collaboration and human factors engineering. “The group brings data to the discussion so that people can make more informed choices,” he said. “It meets twice per year but funds research throughout the year at various facilities.”
Strobhar recommends that young engineers get involved in things outside their normal job functions to learn and improve the company. “Step forward to your supervisor and ask to address issues,” he said. “That really helps you get noticed and advances your knowledge base. It shows you have the ability to not only do what you’re supposed to do but also see opportunities to improve the company’s performance.”
Find out more about ISA Fellows and other awards here.
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