With fears growing over the impact of the Millennium computer bug, the Health & Safety Executive has commissioned Real Time Engineering to prepare a report and guidelines on the potential effects of real time and embedded system failures on safety.
Ron Bell, head of HSE’s Control Systems Unit, says: ‘The implications are far-reaching’. He says HSE is worried that publicity has so far not been targeted at users of safety systems. ‘We are particularly concerned about small and medium sized firms which do not have in-house IT’, he says.
Jim Henderson, technical director RTE: ‘Many [systems] perform safety functions – such as fire and gas alarms, or emergency plant shutdowns. Safety of plant and personnel could be seriously endangered if the Millennium problem lies within any of these.
‘One of the most important things is appreciating the scale of problems. Safety systems are highly reliable under normal circumstances because of dual or triple back-ups. But there’s no protection against the Millennium problem.’
He adds: ‘Anything controlled by computers or involved in time-based logging is suspect. All users must assess the potential risks for themselves. It’s already clear that there will be no simple or quick fixes. It will be a hard grind, but the report and guidelines will explain how best to identify vulnerable systems, and how to deal with problems and fulfil legal obligations.’
Bell: ‘Companies …. should start work immediately. They will need time to make any modifications. First step is to contact the supplier of their system. By law, manufacturers must tell their customers if they know there is anything in their product which could cause a risk to health and safety.’
RTE will be completing the report this month, but it will not be published until December. Tel HSE hotline on: 0541 545500, or RTE on 0141 427 4142.