April 4, 2019

Last updated on August 17, 2021

What happens when a functional safety project is not well planned, plans are not properly communicated or accountabilities are unclear? 

Safety-related projects are essentially no different to any other project in terms of management, but the issue of accountability is a one that often gets poor attention. When it goes wrong, it can be very costly to fix.

Projects involving safety-related systems must folow sound project management principles, including a clear and concise plan, well developed procedures and key-stage sign-off that may otherwise be less stringent on regular projects.

One significant reason for needing functional safety planning is that the recommended international standard IEC 61511 and parent standard IEC 61508 simply do not assign responsibilities in any way.

It is up to each project, whether a new-build or a modification, to assign organizations and individuals with very clear responsibilities and accountabilities.

One way of documenting and communicating this is to use an RACI matrix (RACI wikipedia page). The acronym stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. The idea is to allocate company individuals who will fulfill roles for specific lifecycle activities and documents. 

  • Responsible - the party who completes the activity.
  • Accountable - the party accountable, who must sign-off the activity as complete.
  • Consulted - an authority (often technical) who must be consulted for the activity to be completed effectively.
  • Informed - an interested party who needs to be informed about progress as they are involved in other stages.

An RACI matrix is not a complex thing to develop, but it is a really crucial step that many projects simply miss out or do not fully communicate or update as projects progress.

An RACI matrix is not a complex thing to develop, but it is a really crucial and useful tool for communication

Not communicating clearly on a functional safety project can result in multiple problems as follows:

  1. Without a clear list of activities, key life-cycle steps may be missed.
  2. There can be misunderstandings between the duty holder and sub-contractors about who is responsible for what, and, very importantly, who is ultimately accountable.
  3. Individual parties may be unclear about whether they are to be simply being informed or if they are required to input as a technical consultant on an activity.
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