Checking Emergency Stop Systems

A while back I wrote about the basic design require­ments for Emer­gency Stop sys­tems. I’ve had sev­er­al peo­ple con­tact me want­i­ng to know about check­ing and test­ing emer­gency stops, so here are my thoughts on this process.

Fig­ure 1 below, excerpt­ed from the 1996 edi­tion of ISO 13850, Safe­ty of machin­ery — Emer­gency stop — Prin­ci­ples for design, shows the emer­gency stop func­tion graph­i­cal­ly. As you can see, the ini­ti­at­ing fac­tor in this func­tion is a per­son becom­ing aware of the need for an emer­gency stop. This is NOT an auto­mat­ic func­tion and is NOT a safe­ty or safe­guard­ing func­tion.

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ISO 13850 1996 Figure 1 - Emergency Stop Function
ISO 13850 1996 Fig­ure 1 — Emer­gency Stop Func­tion

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I men­tion this because many peo­ple are con­fused about this point. Emer­gency stop sys­tems are con­sid­ered to be ‘com­pli­men­ta­ry pro­tec­tive mea­sures’, mean­ing that their func­tions com­ple­ment the safe­guard­ing sys­tems, but can­not be con­sid­ered to be safe­guards in and of them­selves. This is sig­nif­i­cant. Safe­guard­ing sys­tems are required to act auto­mat­i­cal­ly to pro­tect an exposed per­son. Think about how an inter­locked gate or a light cur­tain acts to stop haz­ardous motion BEFORE the per­son can reach it. Emer­gency stop is nor­mal­ly used AFTER the per­son is already involved with the haz­ard, and the next step is nor­mal­ly to call 911.

All of that is impor­tant from the per­spec­tive of con­trol reli­a­bil­i­ty. The con­trol reli­a­bil­i­ty require­ments for emer­gency stop sys­tems are often dif­fer­ent from those for the safe­guard­ing sys­tems because they are a back­up sys­tem. Deter­mi­na­tion of the reli­a­bil­i­ty require­ments is based on the risk assess­ment and on an analy­sis of the cir­cum­stances where you, as the design­er, antic­i­pate that emer­gency stop may be help­ful in reduc­ing or avoid­ing injury or machin­ery dam­age. Fre­quent­ly, these sys­tems have low­er con­trol reli­a­bil­i­ty require­ments than do safe­guard­ing sys­tems.

Before you begin any test­ing, under­stand what effects the test­ing will have on the machin­ery. Emer­gency stops can be par­tial­ly test­ed with the machin­ery at rest. Depend­ing on the func­tion of the machin­ery and the dif­fi­cul­ty in recov­er­ing from an emer­gency stop con­di­tion, you may need to adjust your approach to these tests. Start by review­ing the emer­gency stop func­tion­al descrip­tion in the man­u­al. Here’s an exam­ple tak­en from a real machine man­u­al:

Emergency Stop (E-Stop) Button

Emergency Stop Button
Fig­ure 2.1 Emer­gency Stop (E-Stop) But­ton

A red emer­gency stop (E-Stop) but­ton is a safe­ty device which allows the oper­a­tor to stop the machine in an emer­gency. At any time dur­ing oper­a­tion, press the E-Stop but­ton to dis­con­nect actu­a­tor pow­er and stop all con­nect­ed machines in the pro­duc­tion line. Fig­ure 2.1 shows the emer­gency stop but­ton.

There is one E-Stop but­ton on the pneu­mat­ic pan­el.

NOTE: After press­ing the E-Stop but­ton, the entire pro­duc­tion line from spread­er-feed­er to stack­er shuts down. When the E-Stop but­ton is reset, all machines in the pro­duc­tion line will need to be restart­ed.

DANGER: These devices do not dis­con­nect main elec­tri­cal pow­er from the machine. See “Elec­tri­cal Dis­con­nect” on page 21.

As you can see, the gen­er­al func­tion of the but­ton is described, and some warn­ings are giv­en about what does and doesn’t hap­pen when the but­ton is pressed.

Now, if the emer­gency stop sys­tem has been designed prop­er­ly and the machine is oper­at­ing nor­mal­ly, press­ing the emer­gency stop but­ton while the machine is in mid-cycle should result in the machin­ery com­ing to a fast and grace­ful stop. Here is what ISO 13850 has to say about this con­di­tion:

4.1.3 The emer­gency stop func­tion shall be so designed that, after actu­a­tion of the emer­gency stop actu­a­tor, haz­ardous move­ments and oper­a­tions of the machine are stopped in an appro­pri­ate man­ner, with­out cre­at­ing addi­tion­al haz­ards and with­out any fur­ther inter­ven­tion by any per­son, accord­ing to the risk assess­ment.
An “appro­pri­ate man­ner” can include

  • choice of an opti­mal decel­er­a­tion rate,
  • selec­tion of the stop cat­e­go­ry (see 4.1.4), and
  • employ­ment of a pre­de­ter­mined shut­down sequence.

The emer­gency stop func­tion shall be so designed that a deci­sion to use the emer­gency stop device does not require the machine oper­a­tor to con­sid­er the resul­tant effects.

The inten­tion of this func­tion is to bring the machin­ery to a halt as quick­ly as pos­si­ble with­out dam­ag­ing the machine. How­ev­er, if the brak­ing sys­tems fail, e.g. the ser­vo dri­ve fails to decel­er­ate the tool­ing as it should, then drop­ping pow­er and poten­tial­ly dam­ag­ing the machin­ery is accept­able.

In many sys­tems, press­ing the e-stop but­ton or oth­er­wise acti­vat­ing the emer­gency stop sys­tem will result in a fault or an error being dis­played on the machine’s oper­a­tor dis­play. This can be used as an indi­ca­tion that the con­trol sys­tem ‘knows’ that the sys­tem has been acti­vat­ed.

ISO 13850 requires that emer­gency stop sys­tems exhib­it the fol­low­ing key behav­iours:

  • It must over­ride all oth­er con­trol func­tions, and no start func­tions are per­mit­ted (intend­ed, unin­tend­ed or unex­pect­ed) until the emer­gency stop has been reset;
  • Use of the emer­gency stop can­not impair the oper­a­tion of any func­tions of the machine intend­ed for the release of trapped per­sons;
  • It is not per­mit­ted to affect the func­tion of any oth­er safe­ty crit­i­cal sys­tems or devices.


Once the emer­gency stop device has been acti­vat­ed, con­trol pow­er is nor­mal­ly lost. Press­ing any START func­tion on the con­trol pan­el, except POWER ON or RESET should have no effect. If any aspect of the machine starts, count this as a FAILED test.

If reset­ting the emer­gency stop device results in con­trol pow­er being re-applied, count this as a FAILED test.

Press­ing POWER ON or RESET before the acti­vat­ed emer­gency stop device has been reset (i.e. the e-stop but­ton has been pulled out to the ‘oper­ate’ posi­tion), should have no effect. If you can turn the pow­er back on before you reset the emer­gency stop device, count this as a FAILED test.

Once the emer­gency stop device has been reset, press­ing POWER ON or RESET should result in the con­trol pow­er being restored. This is accept­able. The machine should not restart. If the machine restarts nor­mal oper­a­tion, count this as a FAILED test.

Once con­trol pow­er is back on, you may have a num­ber of faults to clear. When all the faults have been cleared, press­ing the START but­ton should result in the machine restart­ing. This is accept­able behav­iour.

If you break the machine while test­ing the emer­gency stop sys­tem, count this as a FAILED test.

Test all emer­gency stop devices. A wiring error or oth­er prob­lems may not be appar­ent until the emer­gency stop device is test­ed. Push all but­tons, pull all pull cords, acti­vate all emer­gency stop devices. If any fail to cre­ate the emer­gency stop con­di­tion, count this as a FAILED test.

If, hav­ing con­duct­ed all of these tests, no fail­ures have been detect­ed, con­sid­er the sys­tem to have passed basic func­tion­al test­ing. Depend­ing on the com­plex­i­ty of the sys­tem and the crit­i­cal­i­ty of the emer­gency stop func­tion, addi­tion­al test­ing may be required. It may be nec­es­sary to devel­op some func­tion­al tests that are con­duct­ed while var­i­ous EMI sig­nals are present, for exam­ple.

If you have any ques­tions regard­ing test­ing of emer­gency stop devices, please email me!

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Series Nav­i­ga­tionEmer­gency Stop — What’s so con­fus­ing about that?Bust­ing Emer­gency Stop Myths

Author: Doug Nix

Doug Nix is Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Compliance InSight Consulting, Inc. ( in Kitchener, Ontario, and is Lead Author and Senior Editor of the Machinery Safety 101 blog. Doug's work includes teaching machinery risk assessment techniques privately and through Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Kitchener, Ontario, as well as providing technical services and training programs to clients related to risk assessment, industrial machinery safety, safety-related control system integration and reliability, laser safety and regulatory conformity. For more see Doug's LinkedIn profile.