What is ‘Safe’?

Instinctively, we want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm.

Our global society demands mass-produced goods, transportation, industrial-scale healthcare and utilities, and an ever-expanding range of leisure pursuits – but delivering all of these things come with risk.  How can we run the complex systems that provide these benefits, while protecting workers and the public from harm?

Increasingly, the answer is through a systematic and disciplined approach throughout the life of these huge enterprises.  This brings a massive opportunity for the individuals and organizations who can understand and deliver such benefits in our complex world.

System Safety, Functional Safety and Safe Design

This disciplined approach has acquired many different labels.

System Safety

Is described in various ways:

“The system safety concept calls for a risk management strategy based on identification, analysis of hazards and application of remedial controls using a systems-based approach.”

Harold E. Roland; Brian Moriarty (1990). System Safety Engineering and Management. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471618160

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Functional Safety

This approach emerged in the 1990s.  It introduced the concept that a process, already managed by a ‘basic process control system’ might need a ‘safety instrumented system’ as well.

Functional safety is the part of the overall safety of a system or piece of equipment that depends on automatic protection operating correctly in response to its inputs or failure in a predictable manner (fail-safe). The automatic protection system should be designed to properly handle likely human errors, hardware failures and operational/environmental stress.”


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Safe Design

Safe design is a process defined as the integration of hazard identification and risk assessment methods early in the design process to eliminate or minimise the risks of injury throughout the life of a structure being designed. It encompasses all design including facilities, hardware, systems, equipment, products, layout and configuration.

Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner

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Work Health & Safety

Australian Work Health & Safety law, or WHS, addresses both design and workplace, or occupational, safety.  It’s a very powerful and elegant approach, and it yields a lot of useful content, whether you are in an Australian jurisdiction, or not.

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