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Your Best Safety Shape Ever

July 11, 2013
Making Sure That Your Plant's Safety Instrumented Systems Are Prepared to Respond Is a Lot Like Maintaining Athletic Fitness. Planning, Preparation and the Right Equipment All Contribute to Successful Performance Come Race Day

January 15, 2012, didn't start out well for Luis Duran. A veteran runner of road races across a range of distances, Duran found himself well off his accustomed pace in the Aramco Half Marathon in Houston. As the miles slid slowly by, he ticked off the reasons: He didn't update his training plan. He knew he hadn't logged the necessary mileage or even gotten out the door as frequently as he should have. He didn't cross-train or stretch as much as he had planned. And he was even wearing last season's running shoes. Business travel and family commitments had simply got the best of his training discipline this time around, and when race day came he simply wasn't as prepared as he wanted to be.

Fortunately, Duran doesn't run for a living. Like most of the rest of us, training, road races and other weekend athletic pursuits are for him but a means to an end: a sound mind and fit body that are better prepared to handle whatever unexpected obstacles life throws his way. Duran's day brightened: He wouldn't record a personal best at this half marathon, but he had found an apt analogy to use in his working life, as a safety instrumented system (SIS) specialist for ABB.

The Road Back to Safety Fitness

What struck Duran that warm January day in Houston is that safety system preparedness is a lot like athletic fitness. Planning, preparation and the right equipment all contribute to successful athletic performance come race day. Safety system performance demands much the same discipline, but with an added dimension of vigilance: by design a safety system's "race day" can come any time, day or night, in the course of otherwise routine plant operations.

The road to restoring and maintaining tip-top safety system fitness may well start with the admission that your plant's protective systems—and the work processes that support them—may have suffered neglect in recent months and years. And like a runner returning from a long layoff, a visit to the doctor in the form of an assessment of current safety system fitness is the first order of business when it comes to getting back on track. This includes a full reckoning of updated process conditions, risk factors and risk reduction strategies—together with a thorough evaluation of the ability of existing layers of protection to bring risk down to a level deemed in safety parlance to be "as low as reasonably practical" (ALARP).

Once you know where you stand, it's time to set goals and develop a new training plan that acknowledges where you are and where you need to be on the safety performance scale. To help make his fitness goals more tangible, our lapsed runner might put a specific upcoming race on his calendar and set a target pace and finishing time. Similarly, your safety fitness goals should take into account your plant's latest key performance indicators (KPIs) in the form of production rates, quality standards and environmental measures. With these updated parameters in mind, revisit the safety integrity level (SIL) requirements of your processes. Understand the gaps between the current and desired ability of your systems and processes to reduce risk, and you're ready to formulate a plan of attack.

As your safety training plan takes shape, it should leverage the latest training methodologies (notably the IEC's 61508 and 61511 safety system standards) as well as the latest technologies available in the marketplace. Safety instrumented system technology, in particular, has advanced by several generations since the first programmable systems were developed and deployed in the 1970s and 1980s. Consider the technical clothing and advanced materials of today's running shoes—not to mention GPS watches and MP3 players now at our runner's disposal. They're a far cry from the then state-of-the-art Waffle Trainers and Walkmen of a few decades ago.

Indeed, the ability of today's integrated safety systems to address risk—even while reducing costs and improving engineering and operational productivity—can help bring your plant to entirely new levels of safety performance. So, even if our middle-aged runner feels a new personal record is out of reach, with modern safety system technology even an older plant is subject to no such arbitrary constraints. Further, any safety fitness plan must adequately account for the "obsolescence risk" entailed by staying with an older safety system that may perform adequately today—but for which spare parts and qualified personnel are in dwindling supply.

Another common thread between achieving safety performance and race-day preparedness is the discipline to translate your training plan into reality. Plan the work, work the plan, and, once you've arrived, make sure to cultivate the new habits, the new work processes that will help you continue to function at that same high level. Just as training logs are de rigueur for athletes looking to improve their physical performance, today's safety system standards emphasize the importance of documentation in the form of functional safety management systems (FSMS) at each step along the safety system lifecycle—from risk analysis to design and engineering through operations and maintenance activities. This means ensuring the FSMS compliance of your system providers and engineering firms, as well as day-in, day-out adherence to maintenance and proof-test schedules that if disregarded can cause hard-won gains in safety system performance to slip over time.

SIS Fitness Critical, but not Easy to Maintain

In order to gauge current industry views on safety instrumented systems, Control together with ABB conducted in late 2012 a reader survey across Control’s database of process automation professionals.

The more than 240 survey respondents acknowledged that their plants' safety instrumented systems (SIS) practices are shaped by a range of critical corporate goals, including personal safety, regulatory compliance, preventing downtime and equipment damage, as well as company sustainability mandates.

Yet they also admitted that a range of factors were obstacles to maintaining safety system performance, including insufficient financial resources, lack of management prioritization, underdeveloped risk management culture, lack of in-house expertise and poor integration and visibility into safety systems. Other data from this exclusive study is included throughout this special report.

Help for the Journey

So, you may say, this all sounds great in theory. But how do I figure out how to get started?
ABB, as a pioneer in the development of safety systems for industrial applications, has more than 30 years experience in their design, manufacture and implementation. With operations on all continents and dedicated safety system teams around the world, ABB has the expertise to support operating companies and engineering firms through all phases of the safety system lifecycle.

ABB's current safety system flagship, the System 800xA High Integrity, can function as a standalone SIS complement to an existing distributed control system (DCS) or, for maximum benefit, work hand-in-glove with its System 800xA automation platform in its execution of basic process control system (BPCS) and other process information management tasks.

Assess and plan, implement and maintain. Each of the remaining articles in this special report discusses in greater detail the essential activities needed to keep your safety systems in tip-top shape—and how services and technology from ABB can help make your safety performance goals an achievable reality at every stage of the journey.

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