Can online eLearning improve IEC 61511 functional safety competence?

online team elearning improves iec 61511 functional safety competence

This article proposes real benefits for team online eLearning for the topic of IEC 61511 functional safety competence with safety instrumented systems.


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IEC 61511 Functional Safety

Many think of IEC 61511 as a design standard. Yet, it provides much more than that. Strategically adopting IEC 61511 can seriously improve personnel competence and enhance process safety.

Functional safety, at least in a process industry context, is focused on automated safety instrumented systems - SIS.

When hazardous events occur, safety instrumented system instrumentation and automation devices such as sensors, logic solvers and final elements should be highly unlikely to fail. However, this is only true if the equipment is correctly selected, appropriately designed, installed and maintained.

When hazard owners already recognise the safety life-cycle of the standard of IEC 61511, that's a good start. However, it is not practical to expect instrument technicians and operators to interpret the safety standards individually.

Inspection and proof-testing are essential to keep the SIS equipment ready to react when a hazard occurs. But why? Surely the use of so-called "SIL certified" devices is enough? In a word, no.

Firstly, all SIS devices are subject to random hardware failure. There is no such thing as hardware that does not fail. Anyone who works in a hazardous process plant knows this to be true.

Secondly, but much less obviously, some failures remain hidden until there is a full test of functionality. Devices may appear to be perfectly healthy, but if a demand for a safety action occurs, and the system does not respond as expected, there may be an incident.

Training Options

So what do operation and maintenance personnel need to get up to speed with improving IEC 61511 functional safety competence for safety instrumented systems?

Training is a definite starting point.

The original choice for training was to arrange attendance on a traditional face-to-face course. There is still nothing wrong with that if you have the time and resources.

Now, a growing trend is to take courses "online". However, can you expect a team to engage willingly in "online" training?

The answer to that conundrum depends significantly on what you choose, and the quality of the materials.

Buyer Beware!

Many so-called "online" courses are nothing more than slide decks that got developed as visual aids for face-to-face courses. This lazy approach gives well-developed online courses a bad press.

So, ask these questions before you spend any money.

Does the "online" course:

  • Track each user's progress over extended periods?
  • Allow users to return to the exact part of the course they had reached?
  • Provide quizzes or assessments that test user understanding?
  • Track the quiz or assessment results?
  • Allow users to ask questions about the course material?
  • Provide a means for centrally tracking and reporting progress for a team?
  • Have an independently accredited certificate?

A well-designed online course achieves all the above benefits, and possibly more.

eFunctionalSafety - SIS Foundation - A 2020 IChemE accredited course

Learn more about team eFunctionalSafety online eLearning by arranging a demo now.

Jon Keswick, CFSE

Jon Keswick is a Certified Functional Safety Expert (CFSE) and founder of eFunctionalSafety. Feel free to make contact via Linked-In or comment on any of the eFunctionalSafety blog pages.

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