Society is becoming ever increasingly reliant on technology, be that for communicating, transacting business, mobility, health and diagnosis, energy, farming, mining, process industry, manufacturing, military and defence, and the list goes on.

There seems to be apps for every imaginable purpose.

At the same time, there are increasing reports in the media of situations where reliance on technology has resulted in harm.

This is often through the use of technology for a purpose other than what was intended, inherent design flaws, undisclosed technical limitations, and even vulnerabilities in the technology to cyber security attack.

Society’s expectation for safety is also increasing; there are various statutes that require the developers, operators, maintainers, and users to ensure (and be able to demonstrate) that the technology is safe, so far as is reasonably practicable.

It is not a defence for a software developer to claim ignorance of safety laws and relevant standards if the system that uses that software results in harm.

Due diligence requires knowledge, selection, and application of appropriate standards.

As evidenced by many media reports, the IT and to a lesser extent the OT (Operational Technology) industries are largely ignorant of the need for safety, especially in the existence of safety-related standards.

ACS and its national special interest group, the Australian Safety Critical Systems Association (aSCSa), have been contributing to the development of standards relating to technology safety since about 1997.

Both ACS and aSCSa have representatives on the Standards Australia Industrial Process Measurement, Control and Automation committee (IT-006 committee), the committee that participates in the International Electrotechnical Committees TC65 (Industrial Process Measurement and Control) and SC65A (Industrial Process Measurement and Control – System Aspects).

One of the standards in IT-006’s portfolio is IEC 61508.

IEC 61508 is a widely recognised and used as the international “baseline” standard (a source standard for many specific industry adaptations).

It is a standard consisting of seven parts, parts 1 to 4 being normative, parts 5 to 7 being guidance, that is referenced by industry regulators such as rail and the process industry.

IEC 61508 has been adopted by Standards Australia; the current Edition 2 was adopted in 2011.

Since the publication of Edition 2, technology has evolved to become more complex, necessitating an update to IEC 61508.

The application of technology in safety-related systems has moved from the ‘early adopters’ to now being widespread, resulting in a significant body of maturing knowledge on how to develop and apply this technology in applications that demand high integrity.

Examples extend from agile methodologies used in development, to the incorporation of complex semiconductors, the deployment of more autonomous systems, cyber security considerations, systems engineering and human factors, and reuse of ‘proven in use’ elements.

A committee draft version of IEC 61508 Edition 3 is expected July 2022, with the expectation of eventual publication in 2025.

IEC and Standards Australia have rules relating to the distribution of committee drafts:

“The committee draft (CD) is submitted to all IEC Members: those who participate actively in IEC work, and those who have observer status only (P- and O-members) for comment and approval.

This is the most important commenting stage. At this point, NCs (National Committees) are able to submit all their comments with a view of reaching a consensus on the technical content. Depending on each TC/SC, NCs have between 8 and 16 weeks to submit their comments.”

ACS and the aSCSa are represented on the Australian National Committee for IEC 61508.

George Nikandros is a representative to Standards Australia for ACS. His portfolio is IT-006 Industrial Process Measurement, Control and Management.