Why it's time to improve your functional safety awareness

Safety inpection

Getting your head around functional safety requirements for machinery, plant, and equipment can feel difficult. It can be easy to dismiss it as being irrelevant to your role, or something only specialists need to think about. 

But the truth is that having a broad understanding of functional safety activities and deliverables is important across a wide range of engineering roles. 

Powered and programmable devices and systems are an essential part of many industries, from automotive and transportation to medical and manufacturing. But if that equipment fails or malfunctions, it can pose a real risk to people, other equipment, and the environment.  

Functional safety helps you minimise these risks by ensuring equipment and systems are designed, maintained, and operated correctly. It also provides you with a systematic approach to identifying risks and triggering actions to avoid danger or reduce the impact of a hazard. 

According to Rebekah Reilly, an engineering safety specialist and senior control systems engineer at Engineering. Systems. Management. (E.S.M.), improving your knowledge of functional safety can lead to improved safety and efficiency, as well as better project and operational outcomes.  

Here are just some of the reasons why it’s so critical for you to be aware of functional safety, and how it can benefit your engineering projects: 

Better planning 

Reilly says functional safety has benefits right from the earliest stages of a project or operations. 

“Having an awareness of functional safety requirements means safety can be built into operations or a project from the start,” she says. 

By understanding when it applies and how it’s integrated with engineering, safety, and design processes, you can identify the potential implications for project scope, schedule, and budget. This removes surprises, enabling you to avoid potential cost and time blow-outs down the track. It also gives you the ability to measure safety. 

“With functional safety, you have measurable reliability and safety built into your plant or equipment. That means you have that measurable criteria that you've achieved things that are safe enough.” 

Ensure compliance 

Functional safety helps you to systematise safety, which may be necessary to meet Australian safety legislation and standards. It’s important to be aware of what standards need to be met, so the appropriate systems are in place to ensure compliance. 

“Functional safety removes systematic error from how you run your plant. You have quality assurance that you have designed it correctly, that you've maintained it correctly, and that you're operating it correctly,” Reilly says. 

Effectively engage with specialists 

Functional safety specialists are skilled in understanding the requirements for ensuring that systems are designed, implemented, operated, and maintained to provide the required safety integrity level (SIL).  

With an improved understanding of functional safety, you and your engineering teams will be more aware of when this expertise is required. This will help you to better engage with these specialists. 

“It’s important for organisations to be aware of functional safety so they can decide whether they need an expert in-house or if they can engage external consultants when they need to,” Reilly says. 

Reduce risk and improve performance 

Ultimately, functional safety is about reducing risk and improving safety. The better engineers understand functional safety requirements across a project or operations, the more likely they are to achieve these outcomes. And it can be surprisingly practical and simple. 

“Through design, controlling the design, construction, the operation and the maintenance and the eventual decommissioning, a functional safety management system helps minimise risk and improve safety outcomes. It doesn't have to be too hard. It's really just a plan and some audits,” Reilly says. 

Learn more about functional safety

If you want to improve your knowledge of functional safety, make sure you join Rebekah Reilly’s upcoming Functional Safety Awareness course. This online course is delivered live, and is ideal for mid-career engineers and other professionals in related roles looking to improve their knowledge of functional safety. Find out more about the course here.