Functional Safety and Security- It's Cultural

Fostering a "Safety and Security Culture" in Our Workplaces

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This article was printed in CONTROL's July 2009 edition.

Walt BoyesBy Walt Boyes, Editor in chief

ISA99 co-chair Bryan Singer's successful attack on a functional safety system at last year's ACS Cyber Security Conference, as well as several incidents in 2009, have pushed ISA99 (security) and ISA84 (safety) into setting up a joint working group between them. It's becoming increasingly evident that functional safety cannot be developed in a vacuum, and functional security cannot be achieved without significant philosophical (if not physical) interconnection with the control systems of the industrial plant or utility.

Going further, such development isn't just about functional safety or functional security—it's about fostering a "safety and security culture" in our workplaces.

Reading between the lines of the U.S. House committee report on the Aug. 28, 2008, incident at the Bayer CropScience facility in Institute, W.V., it's pretty clear what happened. The operators were trying to force the reactor online faster than they should have been, with the result that the reaction ran away from them. Boom! If Bayer had been operating from a "safety first" culture, this type of activity would never have happened.

The most important benefit of safe and secure plants is that they don’t kill people.

It was Levi Leathers, executive vice-president of the Dow Chemical Company in the 1960s, who framed the company's "operating discipline." Leathers proclaimed that a safe plant was a profitable plant. It was his insight that led Dow to the development of state-based automation. As the work of the ISA88 community and the WBF have proven, procedure-based operations, such as stateful control, are net contributors to increased reliability and safety. It is clear that procedure-based operations, automation and control strategies can be significant contributors to functional security as well.

One of the main benefits of procedure-based operations is the ability to recover from abnormal situations significantly faster than processes that operate without state-based procedures. This is true whether the process is a batch, a hybrid or a continuous online process. After all, a continuous process is simply a very long batch, and it can be described as such easily with the ISA88 tool set.

Another significant benefit of procedure-based operations is the relative ease with which operators can be trained into their positions. With the large number of engineers, operators and technicians leaving the workforce in the next 10 years, it's going to be necessary to document additional procedures and live by them. Otherwise, we're going to be in the embarrassing situation of the refinery that had to call back a whole class of retired operators because nobody knew how to do turnaround on a particular unit.

What the insight of Levi Leathers means today is that we can use the tools we've developed over the past generation to make our plants more profitable and, at the same time, make them safer and more secure. A safe plant is a profitable plant. A secure plant is a profitable plant. A well-trained workforce in a plant produces a profitable plant.

Functional safety and functional security improve asset management and reliability and reduce unplanned downtime. And this, in turn, improves profitability. Think about what a 1% reduction in downtime could mean for your plant.

But the most important benefit of safe and secure plants is that they don't kill people.

The Bayer CropScience accident killed BayerCropScience employees Barry Withrow, 45, and Bill Oxley, 58. Both men have been described as "model employees." Had Bayer CropScience been fostering a functional safety and functional security culture, Barry and Bill might still be with us, along with the many others who've lost their lives over the years.

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