Machinery Safety 101

ISO 13849 – 1 Analysis — Part 4: MTTFD – Mean Time to Dangerous Failure

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series How to do a 13849 – 1 analysis

Post updated 2019-07-24. Ed.

Func­tion­al safety is all about the like­li­hood of a safety sys­tem fail­ing to oper­ate when you need it. Under­stand­ing Mean Time to Dan­ger­ous Fail­ure, or MTTFD, is crit­ic­al. If you have been read­ing about this top­ic at all, you may notice that I am abbre­vi­at­ing Mean Time to Dan­ger­ous Fail­ure with all cap­it­al let­ters. Using MTTFD is a recent change that occurred in the third edi­tion of ISO 13849 – 1, pub­lished in 2015. In the first and second edi­tions, the cor­rect abbre­vi­ation was MTTFd. Onward!

If you missed the third instal­ment in this series, you can read it here.

Defining MTTFD

Let’s start by hav­ing a look at some key defin­i­tions. Look­ing at [1, Cl. 3], you will find:

3.1.1 safety – related part of a con­trol sys­tem (SRP/CS)—part of a con­trol sys­tem that responds to safety-related input sig­nals and gen­er­ates safety-related
out­put signals

Note 1 to entry: The com­bined safety-related parts of a con­trol sys­tem start at the point where the safety-related input sig­nals are ini­ti­ated (includ­ing, for example, the actu­at­ing cam and the roller of the pos­i­tion switch) and end at the out­put of the power con­trol ele­ments (includ­ing, for example, the main con­tacts of a contactor)

Note 2 to entry: If mon­it­or­ing sys­tems are used for dia­gnostics, they are also con­sidered as SRP/CS.

3.1.5 dan­ger­ous fail­ure—fail­ure which has the poten­tial to put the SRP/CS in a haz­ard­ous or fail-to-func­tion state

Note 1 to entry: Wheth­er or not the poten­tial is real­ized can depend on the chan­nel archi­tec­ture of the sys­tem;
in redund­ant sys­tems a dan­ger­ous hard­ware fail­ure is less likely to lead to the over­all dan­ger­ous or fail-tofunc­tion

Note 2 to entry: [SOURCE: IEC 61508 – 4, 3.6.7, modified.]

3.1.25 mean time to dan­ger­ous fail­ure (MTTFD)—expect­a­tion of the mean time to dan­ger­ous failure

Defin­i­tion 3.1.5 is pretty help­ful, but defin­i­tion 3.1.25 is, well, not much of a defin­i­tion. Let’s look at this anoth­er way.

Failures and Faults

Since everything can and will even­tu­ally fail to per­form the way we expect it to, we know that everything has a fail­ure rate because everything takes some time to fail. Gran­ted that this time may be very short, like the first time the unit is turned on, or it may be very long, some­times hun­dreds of years. Remem­ber that because this is a rate, it is some­thing that occurs over time. It is also import­ant to be clear that we are talk­ing about fail­ures and not faults. Read­ing from [1]:

3.1.3 fault—state of an item char­ac­ter­ized by the inab­il­ity to per­form a required func­tion, exclud­ing the inab­il­ity dur­ing pre­vent­ive main­ten­ance or oth­er planned actions, or due to lack of extern­al resources

Note 1 to entry: A fault is often the res­ult of a fail­ure of the item itself, but may exist without pri­or failure.

Note 2 to entry: In this part of ISO 13849, “fault” means ran­dom fault.
[SOURCE: IEC 60050?191:1990, 05 – 01.]

3.1.4 fail­ure— ter­min­a­tion of the abil­ity of an item to per­form a required function

Note 1 to entry: After a fail­ure, the item has a fault.

Note 2 to entry: “Fail­ure” is an event, as dis­tin­guished from “fault”, which is a state.

Note 3 to entry: The concept as defined does not apply to items con­sist­ing of soft­ware only.

Note 4 to entry: Fail­ures which only affect the avail­ab­il­ity of the pro­cess under con­trol are out­side of the scope of this part of ISO 13849.
[SOURCE: IEC 60050 – 191:1990, 04 – 01.]

3.1.4 Note 2 is the import­ant one at this point in the discussion.

Now, where we have mul­tiples of some­thing, like relays, valves, or safety sys­tems, we now have a pop­u­la­tion of identic­al items, each of which will even­tu­ally fail at some point. We can count those fail­ures as they occur and tally them up, and we can graph how many fail­ures we get in the pop­u­la­tion over time. If this is start­ing to sound sus­pi­ciously like stat­ist­ics to you, that is because it is.

OK, so let’s look at the kinds of fail­ures that occur in that pop­u­la­tion. Some fail­ures will res­ult in a “safe” state, e.g., a relay fail­ing with all poles open, and some will fail in a poten­tially “dan­ger­ous” state, like a nor­mally closed valve devel­op­ing a sig­ni­fic­ant leak. If we tally up all the fail­ures that occur, and then tally the num­ber of “safe” fail­ures and the num­ber of “dan­ger­ous” fail­ures in that pop­u­la­tion, we now have some very use­ful information.

The dif­fer­ent kinds of fail­ures are sig­ni­fied using the lower­case Greek let­ter $latex \lambda$ (lambda). We can add some sub­scripts to help identi­fy what kinds of fail­ures we are talk­ing about. The com­mon vari­able des­ig­na­tions used are [14]:

$latex \lambda$ = fail­ures
$latex \lambda_{(t)} $= fail­ure rate
$latex \lambda_s$ = “safe” fail­ures
$latex \lambda_d$ = “dan­ger­ous” fail­ures
$latex \lambda_{dd}$ = detect­able “dan­ger­ous” fail­ures
$latex \lambda_{du}$ = undetect­able “dan­ger­ous” failures

I will be dis­cuss­ing some of these vari­ables in more detail in a later part of the series when I delve into Dia­gnost­ic Cov­er­age, so don’t worry about them too much just yet.

Getting to MTTFD

Since we can now start to deal with the fail­ure rate data math­em­at­ic­ally, we can start to do some cal­cu­la­tions about the expec­ted life­time of a com­pon­ent or a sys­tem. That expec­ted, or prob­able, life­time is what defin­i­tion 3.1.25 was on about, and is what we call MTTFD.

MTTFD is the time in years over which the prob­ab­il­ity of fail­ure is rel­at­ively con­stant. If you look at a typ­ic­al fail­ure rate curve, called a “bathtub curve” due to its resemb­lance to the pro­file of a nice soak­er tub, the MTTFD is the flat­ter por­tion of the curve between the end of the infant mor­tal­ity peri­od and the wear-out peri­od at the end of life. This part of the curve is the por­tion assumed to be included in the “mis­sion time” for the product. The mis­sion time is con­sidered to be the time between the com­plete replace­ment or refur­bish­ment of the safety-related parts of the con­trol sys­tem. The refur­bish­ment of the SRP/CS  includes the com­plete replace­ment of all wear parts of com­pon­ents in the SRP/CS.

ISO 13849 – 1 assumes the mis­sion time for all machinery is 20 years [1, 4.5.4] and [1, Cl. 10].

Diagram of a standardized bathtub-shaped failure rate curve.
Fig­ure 1 – Typ­ic­al Bathtub Curve [15]

ISO 13849 – 1 provides us with guid­ance on how MTTFD relates to the determ­in­a­tion of the PL in [1, Cl. 4.5.2]. MTTFD is fur­ther grouped into three bands as shown in [1, Table 4].
Table showing the bands of Mean time to dangerous failure of each channel (MTTFD)

The notes for this table are import­ant as well. Since you can­’t read the notes par­tic­u­larly well in the table above, I’ve repro­duced them here:

NOTE 1 The choice of the MTTFD ranges of each chan­nel is based on fail­ure rates found in the field as state-of-the-art, form­ing a kind of log­ar­ithmic scale fit­ting to the log­ar­ithmic PL scale. An MTTFD value of each chan­nel less than three years is not expec­ted to be found for real SRP/CS since this would mean that after one year about 30 % of all sys­tems on the mar­ket will fail and will need to be replaced. An MTTFD value of each chan­nel great­er than 100 years is not accept­able because SRP/CS for high risks should not depend on the reli­ab­il­ity of com­pon­ents alone. To rein­force the SRP/CS against sys­tem­at­ic and ran­dom fail­ure, addi­tion­al means such as redund­ancy and test­ing should be required. To be prac­tic­able, the num­ber of ranges was restric­ted to three. The lim­it­a­tion of MTTFD of each chan­nel val­ues to a max­im­um of 100 years refers to the single chan­nel of the SRP/CS which car­ries out the safety func­tion. High­er MTTFD val­ues can be used for single com­pon­ents (see Table D.1).

NOTE 2 The indic­ated bor­ders of this table are assumed with­in an accur­acy of 5%.

The stand­ard then tells us to select the MTTFD using a simple hier­archy [1, 4.5.2]:

For the estim­a­tion ofMTTFD of a com­pon­ent, the hier­arch­ic­al pro­ced­ure for find­ing data shall be, in the order given:

a) use manufacturer’s data;
b) use meth­ods in Annex C and Annex D;
c) choose 10 years.

Why ten years? Ten years is half of the assumed mis­sion life­time of 20 years. More on mis­sion life­time in a later post.

Look­ing at [1, Annex C.2], you will find the “Good Engin­eer­ing Prac­tices” meth­od for estim­at­ing MTTFD, pre­sum­ing the man­u­fac­turer has not provided you with that inform­a­tion. ISO 13849 – 2 [2] has some ref­er­ence tables that provide some gen­er­al MTTFD val­ues for some kinds of com­pon­ents, but not every part that exists can be lis­ted. How can we deal with parts not lis­ted? [1, Annex C.4] provides us with a cal­cu­la­tion meth­od for estim­at­ing MTTFD for pneu­mat­ic, mech­an­ic­al and elec­tromech­an­ic­al components.

Calculating MTTFD for pneumatic, mechanical and electromechanical components

I need to intro­duce you to a few more vari­ables before we look at how to cal­cu­late MTTFD for a component.

Vari­able Descrip­tion
B10 Num­ber of cycles until 10% of the com­pon­ents fail (for pneu­mat­ic and elec­tromech­an­ic­al components)
B10D Num­ber of cycles until 10% of the com­pon­ents fail dan­ger­ously (for pneu­mat­ic and elec­tromech­an­ic­al components)
T life­time of the component
T10D the mean time until 10% of the com­pon­ents fail dangerously
hop is the mean oper­a­tion time, in hours per day;
dop is the mean oper­a­tion time, in days per year;
tcycle is the mean oper­a­tion time between the begin­ning of two suc­cess­ive cycles of the com­pon­ent. (e.g., switch­ing of a valve) in seconds per cycle.
s seconds
h hours
a years

Know­ing a few details we can cal­cu­late the MTTFD using [1, Eqn C.1]. We need to know the fol­low­ing para­met­ers for the application:

  • B10D
  • hop
  • dop
  • tcycle
Formula for calculating MTTFD - ISO 13849-1, Equation C.1
Cal­cu­lat­ing MTTFD – [1, Eqn. C.1]

In order to use [1, Eqn. C.1], we need to first cal­cu­late nop, using [1, Eqn. C.2]:

Formula for calculating nop - ISO 13849-1, Equation C.2.
Cal­cu­lat­ing nop – [1, Eqn. C.2]

We may also need one more cal­cu­la­tion, [1, Eqn. C.4]:

Calculating T10D using ISO 13849-1 Eqn. C.3
Cal­cu­lat­ing T10D – [1, Eqn. C.4]

Example Calculation [1, C.4.3]

For a pneu­mat­ic valve, a man­u­fac­turer determ­ines a mean value of 60 mil­lion cycles as B10D. The valve is used for two shifts each day on 220 oper­a­tion days a year. The mean time between the begin­ning of two suc­cess­ive switch­ing of the valve is estim­ated as 5 s. This yields the fol­low­ing values:

  • dop of 220 days per year;
  • hop of 16 h per day;
  • tcycle of 5 s per cycle;
  • B10D of 60 mil­lion cycles.

Doing the math, we get:

Example C.4.3 calculations from, ISO 13849-1.
Example C.4.3

So there you have it, at least for a fairly simple case. There are more examples in ISO 13849 – 1, and I would encour­age you to work through them. You can also find a wealth of examples in a report pro­duced by the BGIA in Ger­many, called the Func­tion­al safety of machine con­trols (BGIA Report 2/2008e) [16]. The down­load for the report is linked from the ref­er­ence list at the end of this art­icle. If you are a SISTEMA user, there are lots of examples in the SISTEMA Cook­books, and there are example files avail­able so that you can see how to assemble the sys­tems in the software.

The next part of this series cov­ers Dia­gnost­ic Cov­er­age (DC), and the aver­age DC for mul­tiple safety func­tions in a sys­tem, DCavg.

In case you missed the first part of the series, you can read it here.

Book List

Here are some books that I think you may find help­ful on this journey:

[0]     B. Main, Risk Assess­ment: Basics and Bench­marks, 1st ed. Ann Arbor, MI USA: DSE, 2004.

[0.1]  D. Smith and K. Simpson, Safety crit­ic­al sys­tems hand­book. Ams­ter­dam: Elsevi­er­/But­ter­worth-Heine­mann, 2011.

[0.2]  Elec­tro­mag­net­ic Com­pat­ib­il­ity for Func­tion­al Safety, 1st ed. Steven­age, UK: The Insti­tu­tion of Engin­eer­ing and Tech­no­logy, 2008.

[0.3] Over­view of tech­niques and meas­ures related to EMC for Func­tion­al Safety, 1st ed. Steven­age, UK: Over­view of tech­niques and meas­ures related to EMC for Func­tion­al Safety, 2013.

[0.4] “Code of prac­tice for elec­tro­mag­net­ic resi­li­ence, 1st ed. Steven­age, UK: IET Stand­ards TC4.3 EMC, 2017.

[0.5] “Code of Prac­tice: Com­pet­ence for Safety Related Sys­tems Prac­ti­tion­ers, 1st ed. Steven­age, UK: The Insti­tu­tion of Engin­eer­ing and Tech­no­logy, 2016.


Note: This ref­er­ence list starts in Part 1 of the series, so “miss­ing” ref­er­ences may show in oth­er parts of the series. Included in the last post of the series is the com­plete ref­er­ence list.

[1]     Safety of machinery — Safety-related parts of con­trol sys­tems — Part 1: Gen­er­al prin­ciples for design. 3rd Edi­tion. ISO Stand­ard 13849 – 1. 2015.

[2]     Safety of machinery – Safety-related parts of con­trol sys­tems – Part 2: Val­id­a­tion. 2nd Edi­tion. ISO Stand­ard 13849 – 2. 2012.

[7]     Func­tion­al safety of electrical/electronic/programmable elec­tron­ic safety-related sys­tems. 7 parts. IEC Stand­ard 61508. Second Edi­tion. 2010.

[14]    Func­tion­al safety of electrical/electronic/programmable elec­tron­ic safety-related sys­tems – Part 4: Defin­i­tions and abbre­vi­ations. IEC Stand­ard 61508 – 4. Second Edi­tion. 2010.

[15]    “The bathtub curve and product fail­ure beha­vi­or part 1 of 2”,, 2017. [Online]. Avail­able: [Accessed: 03- Jan- 2017].

[16]   “Func­tion­al safety of machine con­trols – Applic­a­tion of EN ISO 13849 (BGIA Report 2/2008e)”,, 2017. [Online]. Avail­able:‑2 – 2008/index‑2.jsp. [Accessed: 2017-01-04].

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Series Nav­ig­a­tionISO 13849 – 1 Ana­lys­is — Part 3: Archi­tec­tur­al Cat­egory Selec­tion”>ISO 13849 – 1 Ana­lys­is — Part 3: Archi­tec­tur­al Cat­egory Selec­tionISO 13849 – 1 Ana­lys­is — Part 5: Dia­gnost­ic Cov­er­age (DC)”>ISO 13849 – 1 Ana­lys­is — Part 5: Dia­gnost­ic Cov­er­age (DC)

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