Developing Safety Competency

I just read a great article, How to Achieve Competent Workforce for Safety, in the May edition of Automation World magazine. Written by editor-in-chief, Gary Mintchell (also of Feed Forward blog, Automation Gear blog and Twitter fame), this article looks at the people side of ensuring safety. It examines some of the existing regulations and standards around competency, views from both process and discrete automation suppliers and views from safety-focused organizations.

Emerson’s Chuck Miller is quoted in the article and has long articulated the role of people in effective safety programs. The article notes that both the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the global IEC organizations, through the IEC 61508 and IEC 61511 standards, “state that people involved with the safety lifecycle must be competent in the area in which they deal.”

The safety lifecycle covers a broad spectrum of responsibilities, and Chuck notes, “even people we consider to be safety experts may not be expert in all areas of the lifecycle. For example, a reliability engineer may know a lot about the equipment, but may not be able to competently go into the plant and effectively calibrate and maintain that equipment.”

The article describes the top-down support and commitment to build a strong safety culture with competent people across all phases of the safety lifecycle. To help in this competency requirement, Emerson developed a safety management system built according to IEC 61511 and had its processes audited and certified by TÜV in 2006.

A safety management system should clearly define the organization, competency policy, safety audit procedures and the safety lifecycle activities. Good guidelines exist to help. The United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2007 published, Managing competence for safety-related system, Part 1: Key Guidance. It includes 16 principles across the plan, design, operate and audit/review phases of the safety lifecycle.

Emerson’s safety management system defines clear policies and processes, roles, role competency requirements and the training/experience required to achieve the identified skills for each role. Examples of roles in the project phase are SIS consultants, SIS project leads, SIS software engineering personnel, SIS hardware engineering personnel, and SIS field equipment engineering personnel. In addition to an employee’s work experience, a key part of Emerson’s safety competency requirements program is the Certified Functional Safety Expert (CFSE) certification. I did a quick search on the list of CFSE/CFSP certified safety professionals and counted more than 60 global Emerson folks that are now certified.

I caught up with Mike Boudreaux to find other ways that Emerson helps end users to address their SIS competency requirements. Thorough knowledge of the entire safety system is important. Competency requirements should apply to all of the components that make up the SIS, from the sensor to the final element and everything in between. Here are some ways that Emerson is helping:

  • SIS Seminars that include a safety overview, discussion of SIS applications and a discussion of the safety lifecycle
  • PlantWeb University SIS courses that are free online courses that provide a good overview of IEC 61508/61511 safety lifecycle concepts.
  • Process Safety Training Courses that cover the Analysis and Realization phases of the IEC 61511 safety lifecycle
  • Training courses on the SIS components that Emerson supplies, including the sensors, logic solvers, final elements, and safety lifecycle tools.
  • Emerson has supported the development of the CSFE/CSFP programs through participation on the CFSE Governance Board. The governance board is an independent board that administers certification tests for CFSE.

Mike also points out, “competency goes beyond knowledge of the concepts and technologies that are used to implement an SIS. Good design and implementation reduces the random and common cause hardware failures. It is in preventing the systematic failures where managing competency throughout the entire safety lifecycle becomes so important. For many end users, this means that developing competency management in the Operation phase is very critical.”

Knowledge of the process application and the hazards involved is a must. IEC 61511 also calls out the need for “adequate management and leadership skills appropriate to their role in the safety lifecycle activities” as part of competency. This has a lot to do with the type of people that you employ and the company culture that you develop. It is not something that can be created overnight and it takes a long-term commitment to be successful.

Update: Welcome Feed Forward blog readers!

Posted Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 under Education, Operator Performance, Project Services, Safety, Support Services.

2 comments

  1. Jim Cahill says:

    I justed wanted to add that there’s a good discussion going on over in the DeltaV Facebook group on certification. See: http://www.facebook.com/board.php?uid=21266817522#/topic.php?uid=21266817522&topic=7584

  2. I would like to appreciate the efforts you have made in writing this article and i am hoping the same good work from you in the future as well.

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