Thinking about developing a safety product? Use these 3 steps as a starting point:
1. Know thyself
Do you have documented development processes that govern how you develop a product from start to finish? If not, start by writing down what is actually being done. Interview the people who actually do the work. Don’t worry if it seems off base, you can make adjustments later. Once folks start thinking about what they do and how they do it, you should organize these steps according to the safety lifecycle. If you have an ISO 9000 certification, this is a big help with overall process documentation, but it is not specific for functional safety. You’ll have to review the requirement for functional safety management (FSM) in IEC 61508-1 to identify safety activities (document control, personnel competency, field history reporting, and action item process) among others.
2. What you don’t know CAN hurt you… Get training
If IEC 61508 seems like a foreign language, you’ll want training on what it is and how it will affect what you do. Having a background in how functional safety standards were developed and how they’re applied will lay the foundation for why a systematic and structured process is valuable. Additionally, to avoid and control systematic failures, you’ll also need to learn about quantitative analysis for hardware to quantify the random failures in your design and learn about adding automatic diagnostics to detect these failures.
3. Practice on a small project.
How to get started? As NIKE says: “just do it!” You will make mistakes, but you’ll learn from them and you will improve. Even if it’s not a safety project, you’ll begin to have a more structured and formal process that you can tailor for safety and non-safety development. As you proceed along this path, you’ll be tempted to waive some safety processes because they seem like overkill. But my advice is to limit your waivers because most of these steps will eventually save time and money on any project by finding systematic failures earlier while they are still small and cheap enough to fix.