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Designing Instrumentation and Control

for Process Safety

Taking a life-cycle approach
May 15, 2002
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Is your chemical process "covered" by 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.119,

which covers the process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals? If so, you
might be aware that instrumentation and controls can be several of the many independent
layers used to maintain process safety.
A number of new domestic and international standards and guidelines are available in this
area.1-3 The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has publicly recognized
American National Standard Institute/Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society
(ANSI/ISA) 84 as a "good engineering practice" and acceptable when following the 1910.119
regulation. Unfortunately, many engineers are either unaware of or reluctant to follow these
documents. Ignorance is not bliss, or an adequate defense in court should something go
These standards and guidelines either frown on or actually forbid performing control and
safety in one "box" ," e.g., a distributed control system (DCS). However, many plant
engineers combine control and safety for purely economic reasons ," fewer systems, single
source of supply, etc. ," without realizing the negative impact on safety.
Safety cannot be shortchanged ," no easy solutions exist. Current standards address this
with a design life-cycle approach that consists of a set of procedures starting with the
process conceptual design and ending with decommissioning.
The design of instrumentation and control systems for safety has been a source of
controversy for the past 15 years. What technology is most appropriate (e.g., relay, solid
state, software)? What level of redundancy is most appropriate (e.g., single, dual, triple)?
What manual test interval is most appropriate (e.g., monthly, quarterly, yearly)? Should
safety control be performed in the main control system?
These questions cannot be answered subjectively because everyone has a different opinion
and personal background. Developers of industry guidelines, standards and recommended
practices realize this problem and have created performance-based documents. In other
words, the standards do not mandate the technology, level of redundancy or test intervals.
The common theme in all the documents is: The greater the level of process risk, the better
the systems needed to control it.

Multiple safety layers

One common theme in all of the industry's process safety documents is multiple independent
protection layers. Instrumentation and controls form many of these layers. See Fig. 1.
Figure 1. Independent Protection Layers

Historically, all of the layers were independent, typically using diverse technologies from
diverse vendors. However, with the acceptance of software programmable systems, many
plant engineers have considered combining multiple functions into one system. For example,
it is possible to combine control, alarms, shutdown and fire and gas systems in a modern
The benefits seem obvious ," single source of supply, simplified training and spare parts,
lower installed costs, etc. ," yet all industry standards either outright forbid or strongly frown
on such practices. The reasons are simple. How do you allow access to some functions, but
deny access to others? How do you enforce management-of-change policies when
operators are constantly making changes to the control system? How can you be certain
changes made in one program area will not impact the functionality somewhere else?
What might go wrong?
One end-user reported a case in which all the safety functions in one facility were performed
in the DCS. Plant personnel were not aware of the recent industry standards. The corporate
specialist mandated that all safety loops be verified. After checking, plant personnel found
one-third of the loops had been deleted, one-third were bypassed, and the remaining onethird did not function when tested.

The benefits of multiple independent layers also can be shown graphically. Consider an
example of a process with an inherent level of risk ," in this case, the probability of an
explosion ," of once per year, (as was common in the manufacture of gun powder more than
a century ago). Such a level of risk would not be tolerated today.
Suppose the current goal was a 1/100,000 chance of explosion. Assume the basic process
cannot be changed. The only alternative would be to add multiple independent protection
layers. See Fig. 2.
Figure 2. Risk Reduction

The "mechanical" layer might represent pressure-relief valves, and the "other" layer might
represent a fire and gas system. Some layers are "prevention layers," installed to prevent a
particular hazard, while others are mitigation layers, installed to lessen the consequences of
a particular incident. Assume each layer reduces the risk by a factor of 10. The original
accident probability of once per year now can be reduced to 1/100,000 per year (10 x 10 x
10 x 10 x 10 = 100,000).
But what if most of the layers were performed in a single box such as a basic process control
system (BPCS). In this case, the overall risk would be reduced only by a factor of 100 (the
control system and the mechanical protection [10 x 10 = 100]). The overall level of safety
protection in this scenario is less by a factor of 1,000, even though a modern control system
was used. Industry standards actually limit the performance operators can claim from a
control system to no more than a factor of 10.
Design life cycle
A detailed, systematic, methodical, well-documented design process is necessary for the
design of safety instrumented systems. This starts with a safety review of the process,
implementation of other safety layers and a systematic analysis, as well as detailed
documentation and procedures. The steps are described in the standards and referred to as
a safety design life cycle. The intent is to leave a documented, auditable trail, and to make
sure nothing falls between the inevitable cracks within every organization.

Fig. 3 shows the life-cycle steps described in the ANSI/ISA 84 standard. This should be
considered one example only, because variations of the life cycle are presented in other
industry documents. A company can choose to develop its own variation of the life cycle,
based on its unique requirements.
Figure 3. Safety Life Cycle

Some will complain that performing all the life-cycle steps, like all other tasks designed to
lower risk, will increase overall costs and result in lower profitability and decreased
productivity. One in-depth study, conducted by a group that included major engineering
societies, 20 industries and 60 product groups, concluded that production increased as
safety increased.4 OSHA has reported similar findings.
Conceptual process design. The first step in the life cycle is to develop an understanding of
the process, the equipment under control and the environment in sufficient depth to enable
the other life-cycle activities to be performed. The goal is to design an inherently safe plant.
The activities in this step are generally considered a job for a process engineer.
Hazard analysis & risk assessment. The next step is to develop an understanding of the risks
associated with the process. These can impact personnel, production, capital equipment, the
environment, company image and more.
A hazard analysis consists of identifying the hazards. Numerous techniques can be used
(HAZard and OPerability study [HAZOP], what if, fault tree, checklist, etc.) and numerous
texts describe each method.5-7
A risk assessment classifies the risk of the hazards identified in the hazard analysis. Risk is a
function of the frequency or probability of an event, as well as the severity or consequences
of the event.
A risk assessment can be either qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative assessments
subjectively rank the risks from low to high, while quantitative assessments attempt to assign
numerical factors such as death or accident rates to the risk. This is not intended to be the
sole responsibility of the control system engineer. A number of other specialists are required
to perform these assessments, including risk analysts, process designers, process engineers
and possibly control engineers.

The goal of process plant design is to have a plant that is inherently safe, or one in which
residual risks can be controlled by the application of noninstrumented safety layers.
If the risks can be controlled to an acceptable level without the application of an
instrumented system, then the design process stops, as far as a safety instrumented system
is concerned. If the risks cannot be controlled to an acceptable level by the application of
noninstrumented layers, then an instrumented system will be required.
The most difficult step in the overall process for most organizations seems to be determining
the required safety integrity level (SIL). This is not a direct measure of process risk, but
instead a measure of the safety system performance required to control the risks identified
earlier to an acceptable level. The standards outline a variety of methods that describe how
this can be accomplished.
Safety requirement specification development. The next step consists of developing the
safety requirements specification, essentially the functional logic of the system. Naturally, this
will vary for each system. No general across-the-board recommendation can be made.
Each safety function should have an associated SIL requirement, as well as reliability
requirements if unplanned shutdowns are a concern. The engineer should include all
operating conditions, from startup through shutdown, as well as maintenance.
The system will be programmed and tested according to the logic determined during this
step. If an error is made here, it will carry through for the rest of the design. It will not matter
how redundant the system is or how often the system is manually tested; it will not work
properly when required. These are referred to as systematic or functional failures.
Conceptual SIS design. The purpose of this step is to develop an initial design to determine if
it meets the safety requirements and SIL performance requirements. The engineer needs
initially to select a technology, configuration (architecture), test interval, software design,
power source and user interfaces, among others, pertaining to the field devices and the logic
Factors to consider are overall size, budget, complexity, speed of response, communication
requirements, interface requirements, methods of implementing bypasses and testing. Plant
personnel then can perform a relatively simple quantitative analysis to see if the proposed
system meets the performance requirements.8-11 The intent is to evaluate the system
before specifying the solution. Just as it is better to perform a HAZOP before building the
plant, it is better to analyze the proposed safety system before specifying it ," how else will
you know if it meets the performance goal?
Detailed SIS design. Once a design has been chosen, the system must be engineered and
built following strict and conservative procedures. The process requires thorough
documentation ," an auditable trail someone else can follow for verification purposes.
Installation and commissioning. This step ensures the system is installed per the design and
performs per the safety requirements specification. Before a system is shipped from the
factory, it must be thoroughly tested for proper operation. If any changes are required, they
should be made at the factory, not at the installation site.

At installation, the entire system ," including field devices ," must be checked as well. A
detailed installation document should outline each procedure to be carried out. Finished
operations should be signed off in writing to verify each function and operational step has
been checked.
Operations and maintenance. Every system requires periodic maintenance to function
properly. Not all faults are self-revealing, so every safety system must be periodically tested
to make sure it will respond properly to an actual demand. The frequency of inspection and
testing should have been determined earlier in the life cycle. All testing must be documented.
Modifications. As process conditions change, it will be necessary to make changes to the
safety system. All proposed changes require returning to the appropriate phase of the life
cycle. A change considered minor by one individual could have a major impact on the overall
process. The change must be thoroughly reviewed by a qualified team. Many accidents have
been caused by a lack of review.12
Decommissioning. System decommissioning should entail a review to make sure system
removal will not impact the process or surrounding units, and that means are available
during the decommissioning process to protect the personnel, equipment and environment.
When it comes to the design and evaluation of instrumentation and control systems installed
for safety purposes, no easy answers exist. Triplicated logic boxes do not magically solve all
problems. A methodical, team-oriented life-cycle approach is required.
Gruhn is owner of L&M Engineering, Houston. He can be reached at paul.gruhn
1. International Society for Measurement and Control. Application of Safety Instrumented
Systems for the Process Industries, ANSI/ISA 84.
2. International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). 61508 and draft 61511 standards.
3. American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Center for Chemical Process Safety (AIChE
CCPS).Guidelines for Safe Automation of Chemical Processes, 1993.
4. Leveson, Nancy G. Safeware ," System Safety and Computers, Addison-Wesley, 1995.
5. AIChE CCPS. Guidelines for Hazard Evaluation Procedures, 1992.
6. AIChE CCPS. Guidelines for Chemical Process Quantitative Risk Analysis, 1989.
7. Taylor, J.R. Risk Analysis for Process Plants, Pipelines and Transport, E&FN Spon, 1994.

8. Safety Instrumented System (SIS) ," Safety Integrity Level (SIL) Evaluation Techniques,
ISA Draft Technical Report dTR84.02, 1997.
9. Gruhn, P. "The Evaluation of Safety Instrumented Systems ," Tools to Peer Past the
Hype," ISA transactions 35 (1996) 25,"32.
10. Gruhn, P. "Safety Systems: Where is Your Weak Link?" InTech, December 1993.
11. Smith, D. J. Reliability, Maintainability and Risk, Butterworth Heinemann, 1993.
12. "Out of Control ," Why Control Systems Go Wrong and How to Prevent Failure." Health &
Safety Executive (U.K.), 1995.