Functional Safety: How to Comply with ISO 26262

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Andreas Bärwald, Product Line Manager of Functional Safety at TÜV SÜD, one of the world’s leading providers of testing, certification, inspection, auditing and consulting services to the automotive sector, reveals how to comply with ISO 26262.

As many of you will know, in December 2011 a new international standard to govern functional safety in the automotive industry called ISO 26262 became fully operational which, although not mandated by government, is regarded by the industry as quasi-mandatory. The standard applies to electrical and electronic (E/E) systems installed in series production road vehicles, hardware and software components and development tools primarily used in the automotive sector.

Few automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers will dispute the importance of the standard, following a number of functional safety related issues that have put lives at risk and cost the industry dear. However, many will agree it is a challenging standard to interpret and implement due to its complexity and – broadly – a lack of functional safety expertise within the industry.

As a member  of the German standardisation committee that devised ISO 26262 I am in the fortunate position to have an intimate knowledge and understanding of the standard. The following seeks to clarify its benefits and help OEMs and suppliers understand the steps required to conform to its requirements in an effective and efficient manner.

Why conform to ISO 26262?

First and foremost, meeting ISO 26262 will help you improve the safety of your product, minimise risks of product liability and help you remain competitive. It will also enhance your reputation as a premium quality OEM or supplier with a commitment to safety and improve your attractiveness to consumer and corporate customers.

The Five Steps to Compliance

The following provides a brief overview of the five critical steps required to comply with ISO 26262. 

1. Competence is Key

It may sound obvious but the first step to compliance is competence – you must have the expertise required to understand how ISO 26262 relates to your products and how (if required) to make the changes for conformity. This can either be achieved through hiring functional safety specialists, training existing staff through an independent third party or outsourcing expertise from an independent third party.

At TÜV SÜD, for example, we work with some of the automotive industry’s leading firms to train their employees on ISO 26262. In particular, we focus on ensuring relevant staff understand its content, the required documentation and the key issues in each of its chapters, such as  Vocabulary, Management of Functional Safety, Product Development, Supporting Processes and ASIL (Automotive Safety Integrity Level)-oriented and Safety-oriented Analysis. We also provide workshops with customised content and defined case studies to close specific gaps in knowledge and offer Functional Safety people certification training, which certifies engineers as qualified functional safety experts.

2. Create a Culture of Functional Safety

Achieving functional safety requires more than just an understanding of ISO 26262 and its technical requirements. It requires a culture where employees of all levels (including manufacturing staff, when relevant) “live and breathe” its mantra. Functional safety, for example, is an extension of Quality Management that can only function if all employees adhere to high standards. For example, a major safety issue can be caused if just one out of the hundreds of engineers involved in the development process fail to provide the proper ISO conform documentation of their software or hardware development. To help OEMs and suppliers achieve this consistency, they need appropriate management processes, including strict execution of “safety” rules, and tools.

3. Mind the Gap

Once the expertise is in place, the next step is to perform a Gap Analysis. This is an assessment of your existing processes and products against the requirements of the Standard and results in a list of gaps in the form of a technical report. Typically the process involves internal or independent third party functional safety experts investigating key issues of the development process and/or technical product or system (these are outlined within ISO 26262 and include documentation, management processes, technical functions and risk analysis). All assessments must be done in accordance to the relevant items of the standard. The process can usually be achieved over a week long workshop with the internal development team and (usually external independent) software and hardware experts. 

4. Clear Measure Plan

The penultimate step is to formulate a plan that closes the gaps in conformity identified in the Gap Analysis, again in collaboration with an independent third party expert. Should, for example, the Gap Analysis reveal the hardware layout of a safety relevant electronic system leaves a high risk of malfunction when there is a power cut, the plan would outline how the layout (design) needs to be changed to prevent this. It would also describe how the design will be technically modified, the still safe interaction of the modification with other systems and the supporting documentation required. This will ensure all activity is documented correctly so, if there is an incident, it can be re-assessed at a later date. It is crucial for measures to be taken early in the Research and Development process as changes become more costly and time-consuming in later stages.

5. Final Assessment

The final step involves getting a technical report or certificate from an independent third party as a proof of conformity to the latest standard. This is especially important for suppliers as leading OEMs in markets such as Germany, France, the United States and Japan will only accept reports or certificates endorsed by reputable third parties.

To Conclude:

ISO26262 is complex but imperative for OEMs and suppliers. After all, it not only helps to ensure vehicles, systems and components are safe but guards businesses from the often irreparable damage of an incident.


TÜV SÜD is a leading international service organization catering to the business segments INDUSTRY, MOBILITY and CERTIFICATION. It is a leading one-stop global solution provider for product quality and safety testing & inspections, engineering support, management system certification and training solutions. With over 17,000 employees, TÜV SÜD operates worldwide at more than 800 locations. As partners in our customers' processes, our specialist teams ensure that technology, systems and know-how are optimized, thus strengthening our customers' global competitiveness. More information is available at


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