Opinion: Engaging early for smoother safety assessment

Opinion: Engaging early for smoother safety assessment
05 July 2022

Waiting until late in a project to start safety engineering can be a costly mistake

Final safety assurance happens at the end of the project. It’s true, but if you wait until near the end to start the safety engineering process, you significantly increase your chances of not being able to demonstrate safety with a serious risk of having to undertake costly rework, in the worst case leading to extensive delays to the programme.

Whilst I provide independent safety assessment services in my role, I think my colleagues looking after technical compliance would also agree.

Why? Let’s explore.

How do you demonstrate safety compliance?

Following the safety engineering process is one thing – but providing evidence to demonstrate you are safe is another. If you don’t involve your independent assessor early enough, how do you know what evidence is needed and acceptable? What does good look like?

  • Do you guess at what is required?

  • Do you already ‘know’ from previous projects? Is this project identical? Are there areas of risk you’ve not previously considered? Have any requirements changed?

  • Do you just provide the assessor with all your documentation in the hope they can see you must have developed a safe system?

The easiest answer is to ask your assessor! They know what they need to see. That means picking an assessor where you can have an open and collaborative relationship and appointing them early enough in the project to help you adopt a progressive safety assurance approach. This will help ensure that you build a robust safety argument as the project progresses, and are not trying to demonstrate safety, retrospectively, near or at the end of your project.
 

How do you identify safety risks and avoid nasty surprises?

When appointing an assessor, you hopefully aren’t just employing their box-ticking or rubber-stamping skills, although if your procurement is based exclusively on price that may be what you end up with. A good assessor should be able to provide guidance and insight from their previous projects to help yours run more smoothly – well at least the safety assurance parts.
 
Assessing projects takes time – how much time depends on the project complexity. Talk to your assessor early to find out how long it is likely to take to build appropriate time into project schedules. The time needed is also impacted by how you are working with the assessor. If you are drowning them in unnecessary detail, then they are wasting time reading it all to find what is relevant. If you aren’t supplying enough information, then they’ll be raising questions and seeking clarifications which again takes up time from both parties.
 
If working collaboratively, and early enough in the process to make a difference, experienced assessors can recognise common pitfalls and steer your project away from them. When appointed early enough, they can also identify issues early, where there is more time and opportunity to resolve them before they impact on project timescales and costs.

How do you achieve safety?

“A stitch in time saves nine” is an old proverb which means if you sort out a problem immediately it will save a lot of extra work later. This is absolutely true for achieving safety. A risk identified early in the design process will be much easier to design out or mitigate, whereas identifying a risk late can be costly to rectify and could impact the programme. Early assessor involvement can help you to ensure safety risks are mitigated at design.
 
Remember a good assessor wants the same thing you do – safety – think of us an ally, or your conscience. We are there to make sure you adopt a safety engineering process that is likely to get the right results, but sometimes to also question whether you’ve done enough. We want you to succeed, and to help you achieve this as painlessly as possible.
 

What does great railway certification look like?

Whilst I hope people recognise Ricardo as leaders in this field, I think a few key themes summarise my thoughts on what railway companies should be looking for when they select partners for their next projects:

  • Early involvement
    • Appoint assessors early
    • Allow realistic timescales for assessment

  • Collaboration
    • ​Good, timely communication between project and assessors
    • Regular updates to flag and resolve any issues early

    • Build and assess safety assurance evidence as the project progresses, not just at the end

    • Regular reviews, responses, and progress tracking – we have the Ricardo Compliance Tool which can provide you immediate access to any concerns we are raising

    • A team who wants your project to succeed

  • Experience
    • Appoint an assessor who can add value – not just tick boxes
    • An accomplished team that understands what the regulation and key stakeholders require

    • Where issues occur, use their previous experience to help

    • Heed their warnings - avoid common pitfalls

    • A pedigree of success

If you’d like to see more on the independent safety assessment services we offer, then follow this link.

One of the innovations we have invested in to encourage timely, transparent and efficient collaboration during projects is our Ricardo Compliance Tool. You can find out more here and request a demo via the contact form on this page.