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Safety Systems: Safe for Life!

July 11, 2013
Safety System Performance Over Its Entire Lifecycle Relies on Disciplined Work Processes and Feedback Mechanisms to Ensure That Protections Don't Deteriorate Over Time, and That Process Changes Don't Subvert Its Ability to Reduce Risk

For most runners or other weekend athletes, preparing for that upcoming race on the calendar is really only an interim milestone: the ultimate goal is achieving a new fitness level to be enjoyed many years into the future.
Indeed, once race day has come and gone, our recovering runner's focus is likely to shift from a more aggressive, corrective action training plan to new exercise routines intended to keep those hard-won fitness gains from slipping away. A watchful eye on the exercise log and key metrics such as body mass index, resting pulse and other updated race results provide the continuous feedback our runner needs to tweak his routines in line with the changing demands of everyday life.

In much the same way, safety system performance over the "operate and maintain" phase of its lifecycle relies on disciplined work processes and feedback mechanisms to ensure that its abilities don't deteriorate over time, and that process changes don't subvert its abilities to adequately reduce risk.

Functional Safety Management in Operation

A subset of the broader concept of the functional safety management systems (FSMS) concept described in the IEC 61508 and 61511 safety standards, FSMS for the operations and maintenance phase of the safety system lifecycle are intended to ensure that safety system preparedness is maintained over time and that any process or organizational changes are assessed for their potential to affect safety system performance.

In particular, the standards stress the importance of documentation in all aspects of safety system operations and maintenance. For example, the functional safety requirements specification (SRS) that is typically developed during the project phase of a safety system implementation should be updated and kept continuously current throughout the system's operating life.

Safety system proof tests and maintenance tasks—the frequency of which may play into the safety system's risk reduction calculations—must be performed thoroughly and on schedule. Training and qualification of employees also plays into the FSMS equation, as the competence of all individuals that work with the safety systems needs to be ensured.

A cycle for continuous improvement in safety performance also should be part and parcel of a plant's FSMS: processes should be in place to track any near misses, analyze them for root causes, and use the results to further improve safety system performance. The number of times that a safety system has tripped, or the number of hours spent in bypass mode, are other importance metrics making their way onto management's list of safety performance KPIs.

Integration's Lifecycle Appeal

Even with the best of intentions and management commitment, keeping safety system performance at that same high level month after month, year after year, can be an understandably daunting task. But just as the integration of safety and control functions in one unified platform can cut safety system project costs, it can also pay off big after the system is up and running. Indeed, the integration of safety with control and other plant information management tasks can help streamline the management of safety systems preparedness as well as improve operators' ability to head off escalating process conditions before automated intervention is needed.

In contrast, having two separate systems for control and safety increases maintenance effort as well as short-circuits the potential operational synergies to be gained from an integrated system. A byproduct of dated efforts to avoid common mode failures, the separation of safety and control systems also means that operators and engineers must work on two systems throughout the system lifecycle, essentially doing double work to keep the systems in sync. Different suppliers for the two systems also can mean delays and finger-pointing when it comes to trouble-shooting problems.

Separate control and safety systems also mean different HMI screens and operational methodologies. If control room operators must take in information from several consoles, presented in various formats, decision-making can take longer and be less effective, potentially reducing the operator's ability to prevent a hazardous event from taking place or subsequently mitigate the impact of such an event.

A partial solution to this problem is a custom interface that combines information from the safety and process operating systems. Such interfaces, however, are notoriously expensive in both initial and lifecycle costs, and because each one is a custom effort there's little assurance it will work as well as intended. And training programs still must encompass two completely different systems, demanding additional time and resources.

The Case for ABB

Integrated systems, on the other hand, can provide a common interface to other vertically integrated system functions—safety and control as well as sequence-of-events capture, asset management and engineering/configuration tools. This sort of unified visibility has been shown to improve operational performance—as well as reduce the incidence of unwanted shutdowns—without compromising safety.

The concept of integrated safety and control is far from new. ABB, a long-time pioneer in both safety system and process automation technology, installed the first such large-scale system in 1984 on a North Sea oil platform, and has introduced four subsequent generations of technology—the latest being its 800xA High Integrity system in 2005.  Already there are more than 2,700 successful installations of 800xA High Integrity operating worldwide, with an accrued five million hours of operation, and still not a single failure on demand.

Integrated safety and control from ABB: More effective operators, safer operations and lower project and lifecycle costs. Because there is no finish line when it comes to safety.

Support Services for Life

Once your safety instrumented systems are up and running, core to ABB's service offering is its Safety Sentinel program, an extension of its Automation Sentinel Lifecycle management program. Sentinel programs ensure optimal operation and availability of the installed safety system as well as access to software enhancements and 24/7 support and maintenance services. Other ABB services available during the operations and maintenance phase of your safety system lifecycle include:
  • Reliability and operations improvement
  • Modifications, upgrade management
  • Brownfield project delivery
  • 24/7 service level agreements
  • TUV certified service organizations
  • Functional safety management systems
  • Performance assurance
  • Testing and repairs
  • Operating and maintenance procedures
  • Training

ABB's consulting organization also can help with operational management and management of change assessments to make your safety systems—and the systems and organizations that work with them—as effective as possible:

  • Organizational culture/change
  • Human reliability assessment
  • Safety critical procedure assessment
  • Staffing levels and workload assessment
  • Pre start-up safety review
  • Legacy systems review
  • Control room performance assessment
  • Alarm management health check
  • Safe systems of work
  • Management of change auditing
  • Mechanical integrity auditing
  • Incident investigation support

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