Safety life-cycle accountability with an RACI matrix
What happens when a 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 clear differentiator. When it goes wrong, people, the environment and finances can get hurt.
Read to the end to get a useful free RACI matrix spreadsheet as a download.
Projects involving safety-related systems must be conducted with sound project management principles which include a clear and concise plan, well developed procedures and clear sign-off stages that may otherwise be less stringent on non-safety-related projects.
One significant reason for needing specific functional safety planning is that the recommended international standards such as IEC 61511 and parent standard IEC 61508 simply do not assign responsibilities in any way.
It is up to each project, whether new-build or 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 project party informed of progress.
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 step.
Not communicating clearly in this way on a functional safety project can result in multiple problems as follows:
- Without a clear list of activities, key life-cycle steps may be missed.
- There can be misunderstandings between the duty holder and sub-contractors about who is responsible for what, and, very importantly, who is ultimately accountable.
- 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.
In the interests of better project management, I'm happy to share a free example RACI matrix which can be adapted to any project. This matrix includes the typical project activities and parties I have seen involved in projects involving safety instrumented systems. The matrix has a neat feature which checks that there is someone accountable and responsible for each activity, and highlights the row if not.
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