Back to basics with functional safety

It is very easy to get caught up in the complexity of a safety system, after all, the consequences can be unthinkable. However, functional safety is all about making thinks work just as they should.


ISSSource.comIt is very easy to get caught up in the complexity of a safety system, after all, the consequences can be unthinkable. However, functional safety is all about making thinks work just as they should.

“Some functional systems are more complicated than others, but the same principal applies to whatever system you are designing,” said Derek Jones, a TUV functional safety engineer with Rockwell Automation during his presentation at Rockwell Automation Fair 2011’s Safety Automation Forum in Chicago on safe design, safe assessments. “It’s about things like sustainability, performance, productivity, time to market, compliance, development costs, information, and operations and maintenance costs.”

The thing is about safety is having plan; making sure everyone knows what the plan is and then when something happens sticking to the plan.

“If we take a machine on a plant floor that is stopped, that is one of the most dangerous things that can happen,” Jones said. “That machine is there to make money and it isn’t, so that is when things can happen because people with good intentions try to do things they are not capable of doing to get it running and then things happen.”

That is often where task analysis comes into play. Just how do workers on the plant floor going to do the task at hand safely to make the sure the machine runs safely, Jones said. They have to make sure everything runs safely and productively.

“Accidents happen because somebody does not know the implications of what is going on around them,” Jones said. “We have the technology, but we still need what is going on here upstairs (in your brain). The whole process needs to be homogeneous.”

Functional safety is also about making sure everything is in order like all the paperwork or you followed the standards correctly. Just because you have followed standards and you do have the proper technology in place, sometimes things just happen.

“It is about doing due diligence. Can we prove what we did was right. And, if not, is it something we can learn from for the next time,” Jones said.

Making sure everything and everybody is on the same page is difficult enough, but making sure the process is correct from the start is a difficult task.

“You have to have a logical concept for design,” Jones said.

“Sixty percent of all failures come from design,” said Michael Miller, TUV functional safety trainer at Rockwell Automation.

Ironing out all design errors and making sure people and technology are all on the same page all adds up to a more productive and profitable manufacturing environment.

“Safety is as much about productivity than anything else,” Jones said, “and productivity is all about safety.”

Hale is the editor and founder of Industrial Safety and Security Source ( You can reach him at ghale(at)

Edited by Amanda McLeman, Managing Editor, Plant Engineering and Control Engineering.

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