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Software Safety Assurance

Software Safety Assurance is the fourth in a new series of six blog posts on Principles of Software Safety Assurance. In them, we look at the 4+1 principles that underlie all software safety standards.

We outline common software safety assurance principles that are evident in software safety standards and best practices. You can think of these guidelines as the unchanging foundation of any software safety argument because they hold true across projects and domains.

The principles serve as a guide for cross-sector certification and aid in maintaining comprehension of the “big picture” of software safety issues while evaluating and negotiating the specifics of individual standards.

Software Assurance = Justified Confidence

[The original authors referred to Principle 4+1 as ‘confidence’, but this term is not well recognized, so I have used ‘assurance’. The two terms are related. Both terms get us to ask: how much safety is enough? This is also the topic addressed in my blog post on Proportionality.]

Principle 4+1:

The confidence established in addressing the software safety principles shall be commensurate to the contribution of the software to system risk.

‘The Principles of Software Safety Assurance’, RD Hawkins, I Habli & TP Kelly, University of York.

All safety-related software systems must adhere to the four aforementioned principles. To prove that each of the guiding principles has been established for the software, evidence must be presented.

Depending on the characteristics of the software system itself, the dangers that are present, and the principle that is being shown, the proof may take many different forms. The strength and quantity of the supporting evidence will determine how confidently or assuredly the premise is established.

Therefore, it’s crucial to confirm that the level of trust developed is always acceptable. This is frequently accomplished by making sure that the level of confidence attained corresponds to the contribution the software makes to system risk. This strategy makes sure that the areas that lower safety risk the most receive the majority of attention (when producing evidence).

This method is extensively used today. Many standards employ concepts like integrity or assurance levels to describe the amount of confidence needed in a certain software function.


The flight control system for the Boeing 777 airplane is a Fly-By-Wire (FBW) system … The Primary Flight Computer (PFC) is the central computation element of the FBW system. The triple modular redundancy (TMR) concept also applies to the PFC architectural design. Further, the N-version dissimilarity issue is integrated to the TMR concept.

Details are given of a ‘special case procedure’ within the principles’ framework which has been developed specifically to handle the particular problem of the assessment of software-based protection systems. The application of this ‘procedure’ to the Sizewell B Nuclear Power Station computer-based primary protection system is explained.

Suitability of Evidence

Once the essential level of confidence has been established, it is crucial to be able to judge whether it has been reached. Several factors must be taken into account when determining the degree of confidence with which each principle is put into practice.

The suitability of the evidence should be taken into consideration first. The constraints of the type of evidence being used must be considered too. These restrictions will have an impact on the degree of confidence that can be placed in each sort of evidence with regard to a certain principle.

Examples of these restrictions include the degree of test coverage that can be achieved, the precision of the models employed in formal analysis approaches, or the subjectivity of review and inspection. Most techniques have limits on what they can achieve.

Due to these limitations, it could be necessary to combine diverse types of evidence to reach the required degree of confidence in any one of the principles. The reliability of each piece of evidence must also be taken into account. This takes into account the degree of confidence in the item of evidence’s capacity to perform as expected.

This is also frequently referred to as evidence rigor or evidence integrity. The rigorousness of the technique employed to produce the evidence item determines its reliability. The primary variables that will impact trustworthiness are Tools, Personnel, Methodology, Level of Audit and Review, and Independence.

The four software safety principles will never change. However, there is a wide range of trust in how those principles are developed. We now know that a determination must be made regarding the degree of assurance required for any given system’s principles to be established. We now have our guiding principle.

Since it affects how the previous four principles are put into practice, this concept is also known as Principle 4+1.

Software Safety Assurance: End of Part 4 (of 6)

This blog post is derived from ‘The Principles of Software Safety Assurance’, RD Hawkins, I Habli & TP Kelly, University of York. The original paper is available for free here. I was privileged to be taught safety engineering by Tim Kelly, and others, at the University of York. I am pleased to share their valuable work in a more accessible format.

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