What is functional safety?

Making sure your machinery and automated processes are safe and limit risk to operations is essential.

Objective of functional safety

The objective of functional safety is freedom from unacceptable risk of physical injury or of damage to the health of people either directly or indirectly (through damage to property or to the environment) by the proper implementation of one or more automatic protection functions (often called safety functions).

There are regulations and standards that stipulate the minimum requirements for safety and how they should be implemented.

From design, manufacturing processes and distribution to the end-consumer, our series on functional safety will give you an extensive overview of your responsibilities and how to keep your machinery safe.

But what is functional safety?

Control systems used in the operation of automated industrial processes or robotics must be functionally safe. This means that, under a fault condition, the automated process must remain safe.

Example: If the sensor of a power supply fails, or if it gets interrupted otherwise, the powered system must remain safe to limit potential harm and damages

Where necessary, any potentially dangerous operations must shut down and remain de-energised until the fault has been corrected. However, this only applies to parts of the control system that have an impact on the safety of a process or robotic machinery.

Example 1: Consider the movement of a robotic packing machine with the ability to lift several hundred kilograms. If someone were to become trapped by this machine during operation, they would certainly be injured.

Example 2: Imagine the catastrophe that would ensue if the temperature control system failed at a petrol refinery.

These examples are extreme, but they highlight the importance of functional safety in automated processes and machinery. Where a control system is critical to the safe operation of industrial processes, robotic or automated machinery, it must be designed appropriately; it must be functionally safe.

Read the next article in the series: EU regulations, directives and laws required by automated systems

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