All-Round Plant Safety: How to Avoid Knowledge Gaps

It is not easy for plant operators to stay up to date with functional safety. Increasing digitization, new working methods, and changing standards all complicate the process. It is important to focus on ensuring that important know-how about safety equipment and software is retained. But how do plant operators achieve that?

Rapid technical development, new corporate goals and regulatory requirements have an impact in many aspects of plant operation. Safety concept are particularly important – yet  often underestimated. When designing a new plant, those responsible should outline the safety-relevant processes in detail. But in the course of their life cycle, plants change. Modernizations, expansions, and conversions can occur. Unless the operator or a responsible service provider prescribes an adaptation of the security and/or safety concept, operators often shy away from the necessary consequences.

At the very least, modifications or updates to safety equipment must be re-tested by monitoring bodies (e.g. in-house specialist, TÜV, etc.). However, if the modifications are essential and lead to changes in the risk (e.g. additional safety functions), they even have to be submitted to the authorities for testing and approval.

Silos of Risk Knowledge

Technical experts know exactly the specifications and characteristics of their systems. In most cases, however, they also need to know the current state of the safety equipment and be aware of the upcoming modifications and maintenance. There are many duties, all of which require specific know-how. In particular, time-consuming documentation of safety and security analyses often get lost in everyday tasks. If only one of these experts leaves the company, irreplaceable knowledge is lost with them. It is very difficult to measure how high of a risk a departure like this is for malfunctions and failures.

“You can only control what you know. Without continuous lifecycle management, risks are not known and cannot be assessed”.
Thomas Janzer,
Senior Manager Service Product Portfolio, HIMA

Pending modifications can be challenging, because if neither of the original assessment nor the current condition of the safety device are known, lengthy impact analyses or downtimes can result.

Never Again Lose Know-How

How can plant operators now ensure that essential know-how is not lost? Expert training is a good option. But every safety device is unique – after all, it is adapted to the respective plant and specialist knowledge can only be imparted in general to a certain extent. Plant operators can only achieve a long-term solution if they combine consistent lifecycle management with comprehensive functional safety management. This means that operating and safety equipment, required expertise, and procedures are coordinated.

A detailed safety plan must be drawn up to ensure long-term functional safety, defining all procedures and processes. Lifecycle management platforms also ensure that all safety-relevant data is available digitally and that neither deadlines are missed nor specialist knowledge about the plant is lost. Detailed and traceable documentation is also extremely important – especially when external partners are involved.

Benefit from a Single Source

However, a great deal of experience is necessary, especially with safety requirements, precisely because standards and technologies are constantly changing. A good alternative to the internal team, which is usually very busy anyway, are specialists who focus on exactly this area. They are familiar with a wide variety of applications, the customer environment and relevant trends. Ideally, they are also certified. If specialists are involved as early as the planning stage of the security system, they can use coordinated concepts, technologies and devices – and  provide optimum support throughout the entire lifecycle. That’s why technology and service should be in one hand.

This includes regular safety checks, maintenance, modifications, conceptual design, engineering of modernizations and expansions, and constant lifecycle management, including monitoring. In the best case, however, the experts not only perform these tasks, but also offer individual, comprehensive advice. Plant operators thus relieve their employees and become more efficient, the risks decrease and there are no more gaps in knowledge. After all, the service provider knows all the systems, devices, and technologies and they know how they change – so they have the best possible overview of the plant.