Read on to see the software buyer's guide table. A comparison of four software solutions for functional safety. This blog will will look at the main reasons why using such software is possibly better than many traditional approaches, which companies are working in the domain, and the questions you should ask before you choose a solution.
The safety life-cycle was a term first used in IEC 61508  to describe the different steps of activity required to develop an electrical/electronic or programmable electronic safety system. Today, that standard is mostly applied when an equipment manufacturer is developing a new safety-related product or system.
A similar safety life-cycle was also framed by IEC 61511 . This one is more applicable to a safety system projects where the equipment from different suppliers is put together to form an overall system used in a safety duty. This IEC 61511 safety life-cycle is the main context for the software being reviewed in this blog.
Do you need specialist software to manage the safety life-cycle?
There is a very short answer to this question, no - you do not need it. The companies that work in this specialist sector will doubtless advise that you need their tools, but you would not be wrong to question this.
It is possible to manage without any specialist software and to get by with tools that are common in an office environment for producing documents, spreadsheets and drawings. If this is coupled with rigorous document control and document update, then you may not have any problems using a traditional approach.
The challenge is that most organizations are not good at constantly and consistently updating crucial safety information held in different 'dead file' documents.
As you look at typical deliverables for the safety life-cycle, there are clear phases of activity where you may have already selected and purchased some specialist tools which take you beyond what normal office tools can provide.
For example, there are specialist tools which have been around for some time for recording process hazard analysis (PHA or HAZOP) team findings. Depending on the tool, it might also be possible to extend use to studies like Safety Integrity Level (SIL) determination using risk graphs or layer of protection (LOPA). There are also specialist tools aimed at producing bow-tie diagrams, fault tree diagrams, failure mode and effect analysis (FMEA), fault trees and many other specialist safety-related tasks.
What is common to all non-cloud specialist tools is that they apply to a very specific job at a point in the life-cycle and their main output is a report. They may have aspects of a database and aspects of automation of some elements, but in most cases they produce a report which gets allocated a version number and each report becomes a "dead file" on a document management system. There is no mechanism for sharing the data in the dead file with other aspects of a project, and no intention of having the safety-related data actually "alive" for operations use.
For example, after a HAZOP, the subsequent documents which get produced later in the life-cycle might copy/paste information from the dead file report, but there is no active or live sharing of captured information as things progress in a project or get updated during operations.
Database or flat files?
It is not hugely surprising that with the advent of cloud computing some companies have risen to the challenge of offering something a little new and different. Instead of just producing dead files, the intent of such cloud-based safety life-cycle software is to embed the use of data in both the project AND operations processes.
Of course the idea of a database is not new, but the possibility of it being cloud-based brings a whole heap of potential benefits. Here are a few:
- A cloud database with access rights by competency levels means that project collaboration in multi-discipline teams with people from different companies and locations should* be straightforward.
- With everyone accessing the system in data form, document version control becomes less of an issue provided the software solution supports automated version control and the access rights are set up correctly.
- When you have moved out of the project phase and into normal operation, a database will represent the "real world" live view of the system, whereas dead files would need very careful review, update and revision control.
*Note: Should? Some software solutions use an intermediary piece of software that allows users to connect remotely to their central service, but this does not necessarily mean that users can work on the same project at the same time!
Where can you get safety life-cycle software?
There are several suppliers who have sprung up from the consulting and engineering world to provide possible solutions.
The table below provides a quick comparison overview of four software providers:
Each company above was contacted individually and asked to provide their feedback on more than 30 features which are useful for the safety life-cycle. Thanks to their direct feedback, the hope is that this table is a fair and accurate comparison of claimed features at the original date of this blog in September 2018 (LAST UPDATED May 2022).
Other providers, not yet listed in our comparison table:
Selected Tool Comparison
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This table may appear difficult to read in mobile/tablet view.
Feature / SOFTWARE TOOL
Automatic version control
Bow Tie Analysis
Bypass/Override risk analysis
Calibrated Risk Graph
Cause and effects generation
Competency control by lifecycle task (edit/check/approve)
Cyber risk assessment
Enterprise integration / interfacing to CMMS/ERP
Failure and event recording
Failure rate data for equipment
Functional safety assessment action tracking
Functional safety assessment protocol / checklist
Functional safety management / planning
Health meters / Key Performance Indicators
IPL datasheet management
Lifecycle cost calculation
LOPA (High demand)
LOPA (Low demand)
Management of Change
PFD calculation (low demand)
PFH calculation (high demand)
PHA / HAZOP
PHA/LOPA action/gap tracking & analysis
Pre-built SIF templates
Prior use evaluation
Process safety time evaluation
Project action tracking
Project document appending or linking
Proof test procedures
Safety requirements specification - Hardware
Safety requirements specification - Software
SIL Determination Support
System tag database management - tag based database
Team collaboration on the same project in the Cloud instance
TABLE FOOTNOTE: There may be features missing from this table which one or more of the above software providers would regard as important.
Key to the table icons
Caveat emptor - Buyer beware
So far in this blog, I have sung the praises of potentially employing a safety life-cycle cloud-based software solution. Being an independent consultant, who often has to complete independent project assessments, I do not endorse any specific solution.
As always, you should not rely solely on a limited comparison for your information before a purchase. Do your own research to contact the companies concerned if you are interested in more detail on features, limitations, prices etc.