We live in a day and age where wearing a face mask is as essential to our health and safety as wearing a seat belt is to driving. They are both safety relevant in the fact that they help protect us from outside risks, but neither fall under the category of functional safety. The same is true for food, consumer goods, medicine and personal care products. Since none are electrical and/or electronic related, they fall outside the scope.

So, then what exactly does functional safety cover?

Many industries have their own functional safety standard, such as ISO 26262 for road vehicles, IEC 61508 for industrial automation, and IEC 61511 for the process industry, oil and gas. In automotive, the ISO 26262 standard defines functional safety as “the absence of unreasonable risk due to hazards caused by malfunctioning behavior of E/E systems.” Thus, the more widely used definition of functional safety is related to electronic and electrical components that can cause a hazard if they malfunction.

As with anything in life, we know zero risk is unachievable. However, working towards the elimination of risk should be the number one part of our jobs as safety engineers. Understanding and implementing functional safety is a lot like learning to drive a car. As you begin to put miles under your belt while driving, you learn how and why to slow down before approaching a red light abruptly. This is similar to how systems engineers are trained to look for “red flags” or “gaps” before releasing an unsafe component into production.

Across UL, we have the ability to help ensure a system is functionally safe through our capabilities in automotive, semiconductors, autonomy, industrial automation, energy systems, e-mobility and cybersecurity. Not only are we in the business of training our customers on what safety looks like from the outside in, but also from the inside out. UL strives to help build safety cultures within organizations that embrace forward thinking, challenge technological advancement and recognize that just because something is functional, doesn’t mean it’s functionally safe.

So next time you’re wondering if functional safety applies to you, start by understanding the product’s rationale and intent. Therein lies your answer.

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