Become a certified functional safety professional – CFSP or CFSE

Competence is a critical part of functional safety management for conformance with IEC 61511 and IEC 61508 - by eFunctionalSafety

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 which explains the background, what your options are, and how much preparation time you'll need to put in.

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CFSE history

The Certified Functional Safety Expert (CFSE) program was set up initially by two functional safety certification companies back in the early 2000s. The stated intent 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 is now administered by only one of them.

Well, let's not be coy about who I'm talking about; the original founding certification companies were TÜV SÜD and Exida. This much, at least, is public knowledge on the CFSE website. The fall-out between the two companies was never generally acknowledged, but suffice it to say, each company now promotes its favoured program.

What are the differences between CFSP and CFSE?

The CFSE board now offers two functional safety certificates:

  • CFSE - the original "Expert" level - intended for people with ten (10) years  or more of related 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 be reduced by existing relevant qualifications.

Can becoming a CFSP or CFSE make you competent?

I took the CFSE (process applications) exam back in 2004.

At that time, my knowledge of functional safety projects was limited mainly to the implementation of programmable logic solver systems in safety applications.

Since 2004, I have been involved with many functional safety projects, and with a much broader scope. However, I would still 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.

So, 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

I attended a University post-graduate MSc course on safety-critical systems around the turn of this century. Although the teaching was on the whole excellent, the practical application of the ten week-long courses over two years was somewhat limited.

The CFSE / CFSP program is an industry-led program, and as such, it does at least try to focus on what is needed by industry.

At the time of writing, you can study to attain a CFSP or CFSE in process safety applications, machinery safety, safety hardware or safety software development.

The specialisms are essential because the standards and their applications are so different.

Automotive safety (ISO 26262) is also a specialism that is growing, although my personal experience of it is limited to having read the most relevant standard.

How do you prepare for an exam?

The preparation for any 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.

Which standards to read?

The standards you will need to get your hands on will depend mainly on the functional safety specialism for which you will apply.

Process Applications

Machinery safety

Safety hardware development

Safety software development

IEC 61511 - All parts

IEC 62061

IEC 61508-1

IEC 61508-1

IEC 61508-1

ISO 13849-1

IEC 61508-2

IEC 61508-3

IEC 61508-2

ISO 12100

IEC 61508-4

IEC 61508-4

How well will you need to know these standards before taking the exam? The answer to that question largely depends on whether you are studying for the Professional or Expert level exam.

You will need to know the structure and contents of the relevant standards for the specialism so you can find any pertinent information quickly.

However, you will not need to memorise everything. Both CFSP and CFSE exams are "open book". Take the standards in with you for reference, but you do not have time to open them and start learning the contents during the exam!

What other resources are recommended for study?

Online training courses are a more modern way of preparing than purchasing hard-copy books. If implemented well, you may 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 which are similar to questions you would get in the CFSP or CFSE exam.

The online process applications SIS course from eFunctionalSafety is available now, and many people have used it as preparation before attending a CFSP exam (process safety specialism).

The course takes 12 to 18 hours to complete in full and includes the chance for learners to ask questions by email about any relevant topic of concern.

Summary

In conclusion, CFSE and CFSP are useful indicators of competence with functional safety, albeit not the full story. Engineering and science qualifications are still relevant. Practical experience is crucial.

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