Alexander Hill, Energy Business Development Manager at Critical Software Technologies, discusses the importance of a standards-led, safety critical culture within the wind industry.
Safety critical systems are entrusted to perform crucial tasks, ones that cannot be allowed to fail. They are systems that are essential to our modern life yet rarely contemplated by the people that depend upon them the most. Examples include the control system for aircraft landing gear, a nuclear reactor control system or even the controller for traffic lights at a junction. They are a far cry from a desktop computer, for which, as any office worker will concede, the failure rate of can often be measured in hours (sometimes less).
In theory the failure rate of a safety critical system is infinitesimal, yet systems, including those that could be considered safety critical, are becoming increasingly complex with the introduction of sophisticated software algorithms designed to replace or remove the need for purely mechanical processes. Indeed most complex systems are now already highly reliant on their software over pure hardware capability and this trend is only likely to grow in the future.
The defence industry was one of the first to adopt a widespread safety critical culture for the obvious reason that some of their systems controlled hitherto unthinkable destructive power. Indeed the term ‘fail-safe’ entered common parlance as a result of the success of the 1964 Sidney Lumet film of that name. Other industries initially overlooked this approach and deemed it unnecessary, ‘uncompetitive’, ‘too slow moving’, ‘not applicable’ or ‘too expensive’. Many industries paid for that approach with significant embarrassment, economic loss and in some cases blood.