I often get asked how to become a certified functional safety professional or certified functional safety expert (CFSP or CFSE). Well, here's a blog that explains the background, what your options are, and how much preparation time you'll need to put in to take the CFSE or CFSP test.
CFSE / CFSP history
Two functional safety certification companies set up the Certified Functional Safety Expert (CFSE) program in the early 2000s.
The stated purpose was "to ensure that personnel performing SIS life-cycle activities are competent as required by the IEC 61508, 61511, and 62061 standards."
Since the two founding companies had an undisclosed disagreement after just a few years, the program now gets administered by only one of them.
Well, let's not be coy about whom I'm talking; the original founding certification companies were TÜV SÜD and Exida.
This much, at least, is public knowledge on the CFSE website. The fall-out was never generally acknowledged, but suffice it to say, each company now promotes its preferred program.
What are the differences between CFSP and CFSE?
The CFSE board now offers two functional safety certifications:
- CFSE - the original "Expert" level - intended for people with ten (10) years or more experience.
- CFSP - a "Professional" level - open to people with only two (2) years of related experience.
In both cases, the number of years of required experience can get reduced by existing relevant qualifications.
Can becoming a CFSP or CFSE make you competent?
I took the CFSE (process applications) exam back in 2004. My knowledge of functional safety projects was from implementing programmable logic solver systems in safety applications.
Since 2004, I have worked on many functional safety projects and a much broader scope. As a result, I would say I am still not fully competent in many aspects of the safety life-cycle. This "conscious incompetence" is a good thing. It should mean that I understand my limitations.
Having established that competence is a far broader subject than any short training program can solve, is the CFSP or CFSE worth it? Well, yes, I think it still is.
Why CFSP and CFSE are still worth it
The CFSE / CFSP program is an industry-led program, and as such, it does try to focus on more practical applications than your average University or College course.
You can study to attain a CFSP or CFSE in process safety applications, machinery safety, safety hardware, or safety software development at the time of writing.
The specialisms are essential because the different standards and their applications are not identical.
Automotive safety (ISO 26262) is also a growing specialism, although my practical experience is limited.
How do you prepare for an exam?
Preparation for any test or exam is a very personal thing. Some prefer to study over a long period, and some prefer the "cramming" method. Either way, some preparation is required for CFSP and CFSE exams.
Even if you have many years of experience, I do not recommend that you attend an exam "cold" or without substantial preparation.
There is no requirement to take any formal training to attend these exams. In other words, you can self-prepare by reading the functional safety standards, recommended books and working through exercises.
Download the course PDF outline for the IEC 61511 online self-paced course attended by hundreds of professionals.
The standards you will need to get your hands on will depend mainly on your planned functional safety specialism.
Safety hardware development
Safety software development
IEC 61511 - All parts
How well will you need to know these standards before taking the test? The answer to that question largely depends on whether you are studying for the CFSP test or CFSE.
For both tests, you will need to know the structure and contents of the relevant standards for your chosen specialism so you can find information quickly.
However, you will not need to memorise everything. Both CFSP and CFSE tests are "open book". Have the standards with you for reference, but you do not have time to open them and start learning the contents during the exam!
Other study resources
Online training courses are a more modern way of preparing than purchasing hard-copy books. You should be able to study on the move, from a laptop, tablet or even a modern smartphone, without the need for carrying books around with you.
With the right online course, it should be possible to get assessments quizzes and tests similar to questions you would get in the CFSP test or CFSE exam.
The online SIS and functional safety course from eFunctionalSafety is a great way of preparing before attending a CFSP exam (process applications specialism). It takes 12 to 18 hours to complete in full and includes an independent IChemE accredited certificate with an 18 CPD hours award.
In conclusion, CFSE and CFSP are useful indicators of competence with functional safety, albeit not the full story. Engineering and related qualifications are still relevant. Practical experience remains crucial.