Opportunities for Functional Safety in Current Economy

New Opportunities for Functional Safety During Low Economic Growth Period

The current slow and unstable global economic growth has put huge pressure and challenges on engineering consultants to find new opportunities for Functional Safety. Due to falling oil prices, typical requests for functional safety consultancy and risk assessments have tailed off. Stalling forecasted projects is one of the first budgeting cuts the oil companies can make in this climate to make the balance sheets look healthier.  Maybe showing undue optimism, the market will recover in due course and the negative impact on the oil and gas industry will be a distant, albeit anxious, memory. In the present timeframe however, this downturn has unfortunately started to demotivate the passion of safety engineers and consultants in this niche market.

The situation may be unfavourable, but we can easily forget that ‘there are two sides to every coin’. When something is going down, there will ultimately be something going up to balance the scale. We naturally try to compensate the downfalls in life and as experienced functional safety engineers and consultants, our professional enthusiasm can push to capture the new opportunities of this era.

On Wednesday 16th March 2016, the Chancellor’s budget plan was announced and it cast light on new domestic opportunities for functional safety services in the UK. The Chancellor is set to give £300 million towards a series of major long-term transport projects, including funding to progress London’s planned north-south Crossrail 2 scheme linking Surrey with Hertfordshire via a huge tunnel under central London. Other schemes going forward are to include the high-speed link between Manchester and Leeds (known as HS3). It has been said that this is the golden era of railway and transportation investment since the glory of the Victorian period.

Now is the time to embrace these new opportunities with our professional skills and abilities and to contribute to these grand engineering developments.

Functional Safety and Risk Assessment in the Railway System

Functional safety and risk assessment is not a new thing in the railway system. The requirement of risk assessment was initially proposed to the London Underground board in 1989 as part of the response to the King’s Cross fire, with the first results produced in 1992. The primary requirement of the London Underground board for risk assessment was to help them understand whether there are other important hazards or risks “below their radar” with the potential for accidents. In parallel, the risk assessment requirement and method were introduced for the National Rail network in 1999 after the 1996 rail track safety case, which requires a three yearly review. This has been continually developed and has now been used a primary driver in safety improvement planning by the Rail Safety Standard Board.

Whilst we are embracing the new railway opportunities, we should not only focus on how to implement these guidelines and assessments as they are, but also how we can ensure their full compliance with national standards (EN 50126/EN 50128/EN 50129) and bring more values to these developments.

1. Safety management vs performance and reliability improvement of the railway system

From the point of view of the public, safety improvements may compromise the normal operation of the railway. However, from a functional safety point of view, more attention should be paid on how to reduce the frequency of incidents occurring and to consider how to improve the system safety by implementing frequency reduction options.  This, in turn, will also improve the performance and reliability of railway systems by reducing the safety risks.  Therefore, this concept shall be put in the centre of the risk assessment of the railway system.

2. Events to be considered in a risk assessment of the railway system

Both the London Underground and Rail Safety Standard Board have their specified events and hazards to be considered in their risk assessment models. However, recent news showed the increased frustration experienced by passengers in the past year due to interrupted railway services.  More than 30 reasons were identified as the common causes of compromising the railway service, and many of those may be mitigated via safety improvement options on the basis of a functional safety and risk assessment.

3. Using functional safety assessment to support strategic risk priorities

A successful functional safety and risk assessment will be able to:

  • Advise the current risks to people, impact on assets and surrounding environment.
  • Advise the main contributing factors to the risk.
  • Propose improvements to the system safety and reliability.
  • Ensure that the Safety Instrumented Function perform as they are designed to.
  • Schedule the inspection and maintenance of Safety Instrument Functions.
  • Advise how risk is affected by changes in the railway and by improvements in safety performance.

4. Full compliance with industry standards

The IEC 61508 is the generic standard dealing with the functional safety of electrical / electronic/ programmable electronics (E/E/PE) that is to enable the integration of all safety systems. In order to implement the approaches described in IEC 61508 standard in railway field, EN 50128 was established to consider the special needs of railway control and protection systems.  Two further functional safety areas in railway systems are covered by EN 50126 and EN 50129.

Full compliance with these standards will be able to ensure the safety, reliability and performance of the railway systems.  This should be a fundamental part of the new railway developments.

What can ESC do?

Both the London Underground and the Railway Safe Standard Board use the “Bow Tie” approach for their risk assessment and management, with a range of the initiating events addressed on the left side, a range of possible impacts on the right side and the top events at the centre of the bow-tie.  ESC’s senior staff have extensive experience in risk analysis using the bow-tie approach and developing bow-tie tools. ESC has a suite of internationally recognised capabilities and experience that are essential for the risk assessment in railway system:

Some of ESC’s senior staff are internationally known expert in functional safety and risk assessment, and also members of IEC 61508, IEC 61511 and IGasE committees who draft the engineering standards and industry guidance. All these make ESC ready to bring more values and contributions to the railway development projects.