Functional safety work usually involves a lot of people, and multiple organizations. One key success factor for design and operation of safety instrumented systems is the competence of the people involved in the safety lifecycle. In practice, when activities have been omitted, or the quality of the work is not acceptable, this is discovered in the functional safety assessment towards the end of the project, or worse, it is not discovered at all. The result of too low quality is lower integrity of the SIS as a barrier, and thus higher risk to people, assets and environment – without the asset owner being aware of this! Obviously a bad situation.
Competence management is a key part of functional safety management. In spite of this, many companies have less than desirable track records in this field. This may be due to ignorance, or maybe because some organizations view a «SIL» as a marketing designation rather than a real risk reduction measure. Either way – such a situation is unacceptable. One key tool for ensuring everybody involved understands what their responsibilities are, and makes an effort to learn what they need to know to actually secure the necessary system level integrity, is the use of functional safety audits. An auditing program should be available in all functional safety projects, with at least the following aspects:
- A procedure for functional safety audits should exist
- An internal auditing program should exist within each company involved in the safety lifecycle
- Vendor auditing should be used to make sure suppliers are complying with functional safety requirements
- All auditing programs should include aspects related to document control, management of change and competence management
Constructive auditing can be an invaluable part of building a positive organizational culture – where quality becomes as important to every function involved in the value chain – from the sales rep to the R&D engineer.
One day statements like “please take the chapter on competence out of the management plan, we don’t want any difficult questions about systems we do not have” may seem like an impossible absurdity.