Safety Critical Systems

By Dr. Lyndell St. Ville- ICT Consultant

THE unfortunate casualty count resulting from the Cul-de-Sac workplace explosion this week serves as a stark reminder of the expectations of the average worker and, by extension, their families and loved ones: the expectation that they will leave the workplace and return home safely at the end of the day. We should be thankful that a relatively small number of people work in environments that contain hazards of a life-threatening nature.

This critical need for safety is well understood, especially in contexts where a computer system controls some heavy machinery or equipment. In these environments, safety is paramount and some of the most stringent and severe checks possible are applied to manage and contain the risk.

For example, in a car assembly plant, the welding robot may require more instructions than rotate the object on the table by 10 degrees, move the laser arm forward 2 metres and ZAP whatever is there! Instead, maybe some drill holes should correctly align before the laser is activated or the weight of the object should match the expected value.

Even the retired US Space Shuttle featured multiple processors which would essentially ‘cast votes’ to take coordinated action and control the spaceship. In the event of a tie, a separate independent backup system could be entrusted to fly the ship.

Even in non-computing environments, simple equipment contributes to safety, including:
* Slip-resistant foot-wear
* Safety goggles for the eyes
* Seat-belts, fuses, and smoke detectors

While no system is perfect, safety definitely benefits from the appropriate use of technology, training and procedures, to assure that users may safely accomplish their work. If we purposefully assess the risks in our vicinity, and take prompt and sustained action to reduce them, then we continually contribute to a safer environment.

To share your views, contact the author at: www.datashore.net or via The VOICE.

About the Author
Dr. Lyndell St. Ville is an ICT Consultant based in Saint Lucia. His expertise includes systems analysis, design, and capacity building.

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