Philosophy and Technology 24 (2):151-168 (2011)

Sven Ove Hansson
Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm
Neelke Doorn
Delft University of Technology
Safety is a concern in almost all branches of engineering. Whereas safety was traditionally introduced by applying safety factors or margins to the calculated maximum load, this approach is increasingly replaced with probabilistic risk assessment as a tool for dimensioning safety measures. In this paper, the two approaches are compared in terms of what they aim at and what they can, in fact, achieve. The outcome of this comparison suggests that the two approaches should be seen as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. PRA is particularly useful for priority setting and for the effect evaluation of safety measures; however, in most applications, uncertainties prevent PRA from providing an objective probability of failure or value of damage. Safety factors are indispensible for dealing with dangers that cannot be assigned meaningful probabilities.
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DOI 10.1007/s13347-010-0003-6
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