Notes from ‘Safety in Engineering’ Royal Academy Discussion Meeting 13th July 2011


This is a report to SaRS Members on a discussion meeting that was held at the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) on 13 July 2011. The objective of the meeting was to explore whether the existing institutions rather than a new single body could achieve the aim of Haddon-Cave’s Recommendation 28.4 [1]. If they could, how could they promote the exchange of views and experiences and develop shared messages and, where appropriate, common professional standards?


The meeting was Chaired by Prof. John McDermid OBE and attended by a number of senior figures from industry, academia, regulators and professional institutions. The full invited attendee list is given at Annex B (although not all invited attendees on this list were present). There were five speakers followed by a discussion session as follows:


4pm: Chair’s welcome, Prof John McDermid OBE FREng

4.10pm: The need for a professional approach to the safety of engineered systems, Charles Haddon-Cave QC

4.25pm: Introduction: an industrial view on institutional support for safety engineering,
Keith Williams CEng, Group MD Altran Praxis

4.40pm: Coordination across industrial sectors, Dr Chris Elliott FREng, Pitchill Consulting Ltd

4.55pm: View from the safety specialists, Allan Bain CEng, Development Director, Safety and Reliability Society

5.10pm: View from the profession, Jon Prichard, Chief Executive, Engineering Council

5.30pm: Roundtable discussion

6.25pm: Conclusions from the Chair


The presentations and subsequent discussion, together with the Chairman’s summing up, are detailed in Annex A. In summary:

  1. It was felt that safety engineering should be better integrated into all engineering disciplines.
  2. There was no desire for a new professional body for safety engineers but the RAEng should promote better cooperation between institutions and liaise with senior managers and Company Directors to help develop better safety leadership and culture.
  3. The specific ideas on managing competency and continuing professional development currently being proposed by the SaRS Education Standards and CPD Committee (passports / visas) were not supported from various quarters, but the overall concept of providing ‘competence signposts’ for managers and duty holders was supported by some.

Annex A: Meeting Notes

Chairman’s Welcome

John McDermid, welcomed everyone and outlined the objectives of the meeting. He reminded everyone of the original rationale behind recommendation 28.4 and the principle reasons why it was rejected by the MoD (one of only 4 recommendations to be rejected).

The rationale was to establish a single body and a single voice for ‘safety engineering’ and to act as a focal point for government etc. The MoD reasoned however that the objectives could be achieved through improved co-operation between existing institutions and that there should be a focus on the training of all engineers to equip them with the competencies to understand and manage risk.

Speaker 1:  The need for a professional approach to the safety of engineered systems, Charles Haddon-Cave QC.

Charles opened by suggesting that the Nimrod Review was an exercise in ‘hard love’, acknowledging that he himself inhabits a legal world in which the dark art of ‘wise after the event’ prevails. He was gushing in his praise of engineers and engineering.

He focussed on the importance of technical excellence, the concept of duty holder accountability and the need to scale back excessive process and procedure. He then went through seven key areas of concern:

  1. Beware assumptions – paraphrased from the SAS “assumptions are the mother of all cock-ups”.
  2. Value Engineers and engineering – he lamented the lack of engineering presence on the Boards of major engineering enterprises and the abolition of senior engineering roles (such as Chief Engineer) in some quarters.
  3. Beware plain sailing.
  4. Avoid ‘paper safety’ – he still feels that the safety case regime has lost its way recently (although his recommendation in the Nimrod Review for the concept of ‘risk cases’ was another of the four that were rejected).
  5. Don’t be tempted to be risk averse.
  6. Beware outsourcing – he feels some organisations have recently been hooked on the heroin of outsourcing.
  7. Beware the danger of ‘PowerPoint’ engineering.

He concluded by expressing support for the idea of greater co-operation between professional institutions with the RAEng acting as a fulcrum.

Speaker 2: Introduction – an industrial view on institutional support for safety engineering, Keith Williams (Group MD Altran Praxis).

Keith gave an industrial view focussing on three main topics:

  1. UK Leadership – we shouldn’t loose sight of the fact that the UK is a leader (both technical and operationally) in many important disciplines – including safety, regulation, investigation and professional institutions.
  2. BUT warned of a lack of focus – he was concerned about a lack of formal CPD in safety (as a manager where can he find the signposts for training and competence requirements) and questioned the effectiveness of some current approaches (the consideration of safety should influence the design – if it doesn’t we should question the value). He would also like to see more of a single voice for safety rather than silos of expertise.
  3. Collaboration – he welcomed the idea of relevant institutions working together but was anxious that this be done within a business context. We should not inhibit British competitiveness through an excessive burden.

Speaker 3: Coordination across industrial sectors, Dr Chris Elliott (Pitchill Consulting Ltd)

Chris spoke as both a barrister and engineer himself.

He started by linking his two professions by the fact that they inhabit a grey world where there is no right and wrong; and both demand a degree of creativity. Quoting from the Chief Engineer for the McLaren road car he said: ‘science is art done with rules, engineering is science done with a budget’.

He went on to cover three key themes:

  1. Engineers must learn to make trade-offs (safety can never be the ‘highest priority’ otherwise we would never do anything – we must accept and manage risk).
  2. Risk doesn’t respect boundaries (sectoral, national or professional).
  3. Risk from complex systems is a property not an absolute.

He concluded by emphasising that hazards vary greatly between different industrial domains but that they share common aspects of safety culture and safety management in ensuring that the risks associated with the hazards are controlled to an acceptable level.

Speaker 4:  View from the safety specialists, Allan Bain (Development Director, Safety and Reliability Society).

Allan opened by stressing the importance of working together between institutions to improve professional standards. He identified a number of common issues within all industries that drive a need for a common competence framework for safety engineering.

He went on to explain how the proposed SaRS competence framework being developed by the Education Standards and Continuing Professional Development Committee encompasses other existing schemes and introduces the idea of competence passports with industry visas (however, there was not a great deal of appetite for this idea during the subsequent discussion session – see Discussion). Allan also very briefly indicated how the scheme maps to the Engineering Council UK-Spec.

The slides are also available on the SaRS website.

Speaker 5: View from the profession, Jon Prichard, (Chief Executive, Engineering Council)

Jon illustrated with the aid of a number of graphics how enterprise values (corporate), professional values (individual) and client values (team/project) influence project, operational and strategic risk (although this was hindered slightly by an IT failure part way through that left him without slides).

The key message was that the engineering institutions act as both qualifying bodies and learned societies – but they do not provide a ‘licence to practice’. Members become chartered against UK-Spec through a combination of academic qualification, initial professional development (IPD) and peer review (on average this occurs at age 35). There is a concern however over what happens then and he stressed the importance of ensuring good continuing professional development.


In summary, the contributions and discussion went as follows. In this record of the discussion, the Chatham House rule has been applied and individual contributors have not been identified.

Contributor 1

Noted that the focus should be on performance rather than safety and systems should be engineered to fail in a controlled manner.

Views from others on this topic:

  • safety is just part of good engineering;
  • agreement with the sentiment but not entirely with the specifics;
  • safety is distinctive.

Contributor 2

Stated that safety should be an inherent part of the engineering profession and emphasised that most engineering failures actually result from management failures. Picking up on Charles Haddon-Caves talk, one assumption to beware is that ‘managers always listen to engineers’. They suggested that it is the managers that require the training and education rather than the engineers.

Views from others on this topic:

  • we perhaps therefore need to help engineers make their voice heard;
  • recommendation 28.4 was in part an attempt to give engineers a more powerful voice;
  • you shouldn’t run an engineering business without engineers at the heart.

Contributor 3

Suggested people are as important as plant and noted an interactiveDVDand EC risk guidance recently produced.

Contributor 4

Emphasised the importance of teams and noted that risk assessments should be iterative and safety management systems must evolve.

Contributor 5

Noted that safety cases must be written by operational engineers and specifically stated that they didn’t like the idea of a competence passport for engineers. Risk management needs to be embedded within all engineering and if anything a competence passport scheme should apply to managers instead.

Views from others on this topic:

  • another person also noted their dislike of the concept of passports for engineers;
  • managers need to listen but engineers also need to be suitably equipped and competent in delivering the message;
  • Safety should be embedded but not all engineers have the specialist skills for all circumstances (analogy was made to aviation which requires aerodynamics but not all aviation engineers are aerodynamics specialists);
  • there is no evidence of a lack of competence in engineering.

Contributor 6

Noted that the whole system needs to be considered in safety assessment (not just the engineered components). They also noted the importance of safety management culture and behaviours.

Views from others on this topic:

  • shock that anyone would ever think that people are not part of the system and we would want to discuss it (it’s obvious).

Contributor 7

Reiterated the need to tackle behaviours. Their organisation has developed courses in safety risk management with an emphasis on behaviours. Previous experience suggested risk assessments were focussed on ‘the risk of getting caught’ rather than the safety risk.

Views from others on this topic:

  • The NIMROD review identified the importance of LIPS (Leadership, Independence, People and Simplicity);
  • LIPS was liked, but perhaps ‘I’ should be ‘Integrity’ or even ‘Impartial’.

Contributor 8

Said we shouldn’t protect and constrain the safety discipline to such an extent that we stifle ‘creativity’.

Contributor 9

We need to beware safety zealots who don’t see the business perspective.

Contributor 10

We mustn’t forget the importance of ergonomics.

Contributor 11

Anything that tries to put safety into a separate box is bound to fail.

Corporate Boards need to have more engineers.

Contributor 12

Mentioned the Process Safety Forum and wanted to know what was going to happen next following this meeting.

Contributor 13

There are too few women in engineering (perhaps the quote used by Charles Haddon-Cave in his talk should have been ’assumptions are the father of all cock-ups’).

Contributor 14

Competence passports are not a good idea.

Need to consider the competence of designers and Institution of Railway Signal Engineers (IRSE) competencies provide good practice.

Conclusions from the Chair

John McDermid summed up with the following conclusions:

  1. avoid silos of separate ‘safety engineers’ that are remote from the equipment or operation;
  2. apply a business context and train engineers how to make trade-offs;
  3. exert greater influence over senior managers (perhaps by closer working with the Confederation of British Industry or Institute of Directors); and
  4. provide support to Universities (to help incorporate safety into degree courses).

It was proposed that the RAEng could take a leadership role in helping to co-ordinate these activities.

Stephen Clark
SaRS Chairman 2010/2011

Annex B: Invited Attendees

Clive Adams – Arthur D Little Ltd

Miles Adcock – QinetiQ

Paul Anuzis – Rolls Royce

David Attwood -BAESYSTEMS

Allan Bain – SaRS / MoD

Eleanor Beaker – Risk Solutions

Dr Louise Bennett

Dr Phillip Bennet

Alan Berry – IET

Andrew Bradley -BAESYSTEMS

Elizabeth Box -RACFoundation

Eric Bridstock – Raytheon UK

Colin Brown – IMECHE

Dr David Brown – ICHEME

Gretchen Burrett -CAA

Audrey Canning – Virkonnen

John Canning – Virkonnen

James Catmur – Arthur D Little Ltd

George Clark – TFL

Stephen Clark – NATS (Now Frazer-Nash !!!!)

Paul Davies – IET

Peter Duggan – Invensys Rail

Dr Chris Elliiott – Pitchill Consulting

Peter Fielder -BAESYSTEMS

Phil Greenway -BAESYSTEMS

Dr John Groom – Anglo American Mining

Charles Haddon-Cave QC

Judith Hackitt – Chair ofHSE



Simon Howison -BAESYSTEMS

Roger Kemp – University of Lancaster

Alistair Kennedy – Risk Solutions

Howard Mathers – MoD

John McColl -CAA

John McDermid – University of York

Dr Jim McQuaid

Nigel Murphy – Atkins Global

Brian Neale

Tim Norton – NATS

Claire Porter – IRSE

Colin Porter – IRSE

Jon Prichard – Engineering Council

Duncan Priestly -BAESYSTEMS

Roger Rivett

Reg Sell

Dr Scott Steadman -BREGlobal Ltd

Michael Stoller – NATS

Prof Dick Taylor

Rear Admiral Paul Thomas – RSSB

Barry Trimer – Thales

Dr Andrew Vickers – Altran Praxis

David Waboso – TFL

Liz Watson – Rolls Royce

Tony Whitehead – IET

Mike Wilkinson – Niteworks

Keith Williams – Altran Praxis

Phil Williams – General Dynamics

Rob Wright – Balfour Beatty

[1] Recommendation 28.4: A single professional body should be formed for Safety Experts to set professional and ethical standards, accredit members and disseminate best practice. Currently, there are a number of different professional bodies which provide some learned-society facilities for those with some expertise in the safety field. There is a need, however, for a single professional body to provide focus, rigour and a centre of excellence. The Haddon-Cave Report (The Nimrod Review).