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These Factors Raise The Safety Bar

May 30, 2024 | Public | 0 comments


These Factors Raise The Safety Bar

Configuration change management and interoperability can play a major role in mitigating risks.

With the complex processes, intricate machinery, and interconnected systems in today’s industrial landscape, maintaining a safe working environment requires diligent attention to detail and proactive measures. Two critical aspects that play a significant role in enhancing plant safety are configuration change management and interoperability. By effectively addressing these areas, industries can significantly improve safety standards and mitigate potential risks.

Configuration Change

ISA/IEC 62443 is a series of standards developed by the International Society of Automation and submitted to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), Geneva, Switzerland (, for global adoption as international standards. The series focuses on cybersecurity for industrial automation and control systems (IACS). These standards provide guidelines and best practices for securing IACS environments, including aspects such as network security, system hardening, and configuration management. When it comes to configuration change management, ISA/IEC 62443 emphasizes the importance of controlling and managing changes to the configuration of IACS components and systems. Configuration changes can introduce vulnerabilities or disrupt the intended operation of critical systems, so it’s essential to have policies and procedures in place to effectively manage these changes.

Configuration change management involves the systematic handling of changes to plant systems, including hardware, software, and processes. It ensures that planning, implementation, documentation, and verification of changes are carried out safely and effectively. Here’s how effective configuration change management contributes to plant safety:

Risk mitigation: Properly managing configuration changes helps identify potential hazards and risks associated with safety-
system modifications. By conducting thorough risk assessments and impact analyses, organizations can anticipate potential safety issues and activate appropriate mitigation measures before changes are implemented.

Operational stability: Minimizing unplanned or unauthorized safety-system changes ensures the stability and reliability of industrial systems, thereby reducing the likelihood of accidents or failures.

Compliance: Many industries are subject to stringent safety regulations and standards such as ISA/IEC-62433. Effective configuration change management ensures that all modifications to plant systems comply with regulatory requirements.

System integrity: Configuration change management helps maintain the integrity and reliability of plant systems. By documenting all changes and maintaining clear records of system configurations, organizations can prevent unintended consequences, such as system failures or malfunctions, resulting from improper modifications.

Audits and reviews: Comprehensive documentation of configuration changes facilitates audits, inspections, and reviews of plant systems. By providing transparency and traceability, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to safety excellence and continuous improvement, thereby enhancing overall safety performance.

Enhanced incident response: In the event of a safety incident or breach, having well-documented configuration change history facilitates rapid identification of root causes and effective remediation.

Focusing on interoperability improves safety factors such as system integration, monitoring and control, diagnostics, emergency response, and situation awareness.


Interoperability refers to the ability of systems, devices, and components to communicate, exchange data, and work together seamlessly. In the context of plant safety, interoperability plays a crucial role in ensuring that safety systems can collaborate effectively with other plant systems.

Here’s how tackling interoperability challenges can enhance safety:

Seamless safety system integration: Addressing interoperability issues ensures that safety systems, such as fire detection, gas monitoring, and emergency-shutdown systems, can communicate effectively with each other and with other plant systems, such as process-control, SCADA, and maintenance-management systems. This integration enables coordinated responses to safety incidents, such as automatically triggering emergency shutdown procedures in response to detected hazards, thereby reducing response time and minimizing potential damage.

Enhanced monitoring and control: Error-free interoperable systems allow real-time monitoring of safety-critical parameters across various plant systems. By integrating sensors, control systems, and monitoring devices, and eliminating mismatches among them, operators gain comprehensive visibility into the plant’s safety status. Any deviations from normal operating conditions can trigger immediate alerts, enabling proactive intervention to prevent accidents or mitigate their consequences.

Centralized management: Addressing interoperability issues facilitates centralized management and accurate monitoring of safety systems, allowing operators to oversee safety-critical functions from a single interface. This centralized approach improves situation awareness and enables more efficient decision-making in emergency situations.

Improved diagnostic capabilities: Integration with diagnostic and maintenance systems enables proactive monitoring and maintenance of safety devices and components. By collecting and analyzing error-free data from safety systems, organizations can identify potential issues early on and implement preventive measures to ensure continued safety and reliability.

Streamlined emergency response: Error-free interoperable systems support seamless communication and coordination during emergency situations. By integrating emergency response protocols with safety systems and other plant operations, interoperable solutions ensure that response efforts are well-
coordinated and executed in a timely manner. This can significantly reduce the impact of safety incidents and help prevent escalation of risks.

Enhanced situation awareness: Addressing interoperability issues enables aggregation and visualization of accurate data from disparate sources, providing operators with a holistic view of plant operations and safety conditions. With a clearer understanding of the plant’s status, operators can make informed decisions and respond effectively to changing circumstances, thereby reducing the likelihood of safety incidents, and improving overall situation awareness.

Case study

Problem: A major North American petrochemical facility extended the periods between turnarounds, which forced them to perform online interlock testing.

The procedure called for bypassing an SIS output and ramping the transmitter value to test the interlock.

As expected, the interlock in the SIS tripped, but did not trip the shutdown valve.

Due to inadequate documentation, the testers were unaware of a configured link to operator start-up assistance logic in the control system.

The control system logic sensed the interlock trip, placed all controllers in manual mode, and set all valve outputs to the fail-safe position (shutdown).

Findings: Interoperability issues between safety systems, control systems, sensors, and process equipment posed significant safety risks. By implementing an integrated solution, based on open standards and edge-computing technologies, the plant achieved seamless data exchange and enhanced situation awareness. Real-time monitoring and predictive analytics capabilities enabled proactive maintenance and incident prevention, leading to improved safety outcomes and operational efficiency.

By following the guidelines and best practices outlined in ISA/IEC 62443 standards, organizations can effectively manage configuration changes in industrial environments, thereby enhancing the security, reliability, and safety of IACS components and systems. Configuration change management is integral to maintaining a secure and resilient industrial infrastructure in the face of evolving cybersecurity threats and operational challenges.

While ISA/IEC 62443 standards do not explicitly address interoperability issues in the same way they focus on cybersecurity aspects, following the principles and recommendations outlined in these standards can indirectly contribute to addressing interoperability challenges by promoting standardized security profiles, secure communication protocols, integration considerations, vendor-agnostic security controls, and a risk-management approach that encompasses interoperability risks.

Effective plant safety requires a holistic approach. By implementing robust configuration change management processes, organizations can mitigate risks associated with system modifications and ensure compliance with safety standards. Likewise, interoperability plays a crucial role in facilitating seamless communication and collaboration between safety systems and other plant systems, enhancing overall safety performance. In essence, by addressing configuration change management and interoperability issues, organizations can lay the foundation for a culture of safety, resilience, and continuous improvement in plant operations. EP

By Syed Belal, Hexagon Asset Lifecycle Intelligence

Syed Belal is an International Society of Automation (ISA, member and Global Director of OT/ICS Cybersecurity Consulting at Hexagon Asset Lifecycle Intelligence, Stockholm, Sweden ( Hexagon is a provider of applications that create a replica of process and control systems for training, asset identification, inventory, and threat/vulnerability management.

The post "These Factors Raise The Safety Bar" appeared first on Efficient Plant


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