A couple of weeks ago, a good friend and fellow software engineer posted a picture to social media from his visit to The Henry Ford, in Dearborn, MI. The photo was of a plaque that said, “Good design, and careful inspection, monitored by governments or private organizations, made boilers safer. But in the end, safety was the engineer’s responsibility.”

Aside from questioning the mementos he chooses to capture as part of a family outing, I had to comment, as the photo immediately reminded me of one of the initial slides in our ISO 26262 training. The slide I’m referring to emphasizes that since the beginning of modern engineering, whether it be steam engines, boilers, bridges, or aircraft, safety, in the end, is the engineer’s responsibility. My Facebook friend replied back, “Safety is REALLY your job!”

This made me think, not only has the ISO 26262 standard highlighted the fact that functional safety is a critical facet of the engineering development process, but it has also created a new opportunity for engineers to say, “that’s someone else’s job.”

Let’s look at a standard roles and responsibility chart for NASA found here: Assurance Process for Complex Electronics

The roles involved in the development of complex electronics include: Systems Engineer, Electronics Designer, CE (Complex Electronics) Specialist, System Safety, Configuration Management, Process Assurance, and Reliability Engineer. This fuels the argument that it’s someone else’s role to do System Safety, therefore “not my job.” Who wouldn’t be confused?

But now consider a typical job description for a hardware engineer. Duties include:
  • Design and oversee production of hardware,
  • test and re-test parts,
  • identify defects,
  • design software systems
  • prototyping
  • and finally there is the line which says “estimate cost, reliability and safety factors.”

There you have it! Safety, it’s a part of this job! It’s a part of the job that comes after cost and reliability, and at the end of 20 other daunting tasks.The placement is simply a cultural thing, because what really matters is that safety is in the job description. Safety isn’t just “this guy’s” job. Safety is every engineers job!

If you are working on an ASIL rated component, but you’re not the safety engineer, then what role in safety do you play? Depending on your particular responsibilities it will vary. But to everyone’s benefit, whether you are writing specs, doing design, testing, or building, first and foremost know the hazards that a failure in your element could create. With this knowledge comes power.  Knowledge of how critical your element is to a system, in avoiding a rollover, a crash, a thermal anomaly or injury to a fellow human being, just might provide the necessary motivation to fulfill your safety related duties.

Additionally, consider the processes that are a part of your role, the processes that are a part of your organization. Work which is turned into process, into standard practice, likely has a basis in a high quality engineering lifecycle fundamental. It might be an activity deemed essential to the development of a safe product. Despite popular belief, processes are not there to take the fun out of engineering.

As the first fundamental canon of the National Society for Professional Engineers (NSPE) states, “Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public.” Safety is not a part of our job because of an ISO standard, or one-line of a job posting. Safety is a part of our job because we, as engineers, have the power to create great change and improvement in society.  With that power comes great responsibility to ensure the safety (to a metric of 10 failures per billion hours, or 10 FIT) of those who come in contact with our creations. It’s a responsibility that comes with the ability to improve the world! It’s a responsibility that comes with doing the work of….an engineer. And is therefore, all of our jobs!

Leave a Reply.