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Safety and decision-making
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE).
2006 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other scientific)
Abstract [en]

Safety is an important topic for a wide range of disciplines, such as engineering, economics, sociology, psychology, political science and philosophy, and plays a central role in risk analysis and risk management. The aim of this thesis is to develop a concept of safety that is relevant for decision-making, and to elucidate its consequences for risk and safety research and practices.

Essay I provides a conceptual analysis of safety in the context of societal decision-making, focusing on some fundamental distinctions and aspects, and argues for a more complex notion than what is commonly given. This concept of safety explicitly includes epistemic uncertainty, the degree to which we are uncertain of our knowledge of the situation at hand. It is discussed the extent to which such a concept may be considered an objective concept, and concluded that it is better seen as an intersubjective concept. Some formal versions of a comparative safety concept are also proposed.

Essay II explores some consequences of epistemic uncertainty. It is commonly claimed that the public is irrational in its acceptance of risks. An underlying presumption in such a claim is that the public should follow the experts’ advice in recommending an activity whenever the experts have better knowledge of the risk involved. This position is criticised based on considerations from epistemic uncertainty and the goal of safety. Furthermore, it is shown that the scope of the objection covers the entire field of risk research, risk assessment as well as risk management.

Essay III analyses the role of epistemic uncertainty for principles of achieving safety in an engineering context. The aim is to show that to account for common engineering principles we need the understanding of safety that has been argued for in Essays I-II. Several important principles in engineering safety are analysed, and it is argued that we cannot fully account for them on a narrow interpretation of safety as the reduction of risk (understanding risk as the combination of probability and severity of harm). An adequate concept of safety must include not only the reduction of risk but also the reduction of uncertainty.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH , 2006. , viii, 15 p.
Keyword [en]
conceptual analysis, safety, risk, epstemic uncertainty, epstemic values, values in risk assessment, risk analysis, risk management, safety engineering
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-3852ISBN: 91-7178-272-9 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-3852DiVA: diva2:9713
Presentation
2006-02-22, Filosofienhetens seminarierum, KTH, Teknikringen 78 B, 2 tr, Stockholm, 10:15
Opponent
Supervisors
Note
QC 20101119Available from: 2006-02-14 Created: 2006-02-14 Last updated: 2010-11-19Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Safety is more than the antonym of risk
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Safety is more than the antonym of risk
2006 (English)In: Journal of Applied Philosophy, ISSN 0264-3758, E-ISSN 1468-5930, Vol. 23, no 4, 419-432 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Even though much research has been devoted to studies of safety, the concept of safety is in itself under-theorised, especially concerning its relation to epistemic uncertainty. In this paper we propose a conceptual analysis of safety. The paper explores the distinc-tion between absolute and relative safety, as well as that between objective and subjective safety. Four potential dimensions of safety are discussed, viz. harm, probability, epistemic uncertainty, and control. The first three of these are used in the proposed definition of safety, whereas it is argued that control should not be included in a reasonable definition of safety. It is shown that strictly speaking, an objective safety concept is not attainable. Instead, an intersubjective concept is proposed that brings us as close as possible to an objective concept.

National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-14332 (URN)10.1111/j.1468-5930.2006.00345.x (DOI)000209004700003 ()
Note

QC 20100803

Available from: 2010-08-03 Created: 2010-08-03 Last updated: 2017-12-12Bibliographically approved
2. Should we follow the experts’ advice? Epistemic uncertainty, consequence dominance and the knowledge asymmetry of safety
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Should we follow the experts’ advice? Epistemic uncertainty, consequence dominance and the knowledge asymmetry of safety
2009 (English)In: International Journal of Risk Assessment and Management, ISSN 1466-8297, E-ISSN 1741-5241, Vol. 11, no 3/4, 219-236 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

It is a common opinion in risk research that the public is irrational in its acceptance of risks. Many activities that are claimed by experts to be safe are not deemed to be safe by the public, and vice versa. The aim of this article is to put forward a normative critique against a common argument, viz. the claim that the public should follow the experts' advice in recommending an activity whenever the experts have the best knowledge of the risk involved. Even after making plausible limitations to exclude 'external' considerations, the claim remains incorrect. The importance of safety in risk acceptance, together with the phenomenon of epistemic uncertainty, highlights the vital concern: not whether the expert knowledge of the risk is the best one available, but whether that knowledge is good enough. This introduces an 'internal', yet extra-scientific, value component, invalidating the claim. The scope of the objection covers not only risk management but also risk assessment.

Keyword
epistemic uncertainty; epistemic values; risk perception; safety; risk assessment; consequence dominance; knowledge asymmetry; expert advice; experts; public acceptance; irrationality; risk management.
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-14333 (URN)10.1504/IJRAM.2009.023154 (DOI)2-s2.0-60349109194 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20100803Available from: 2010-08-03 Created: 2010-08-03 Last updated: 2017-12-12Bibliographically approved
3. Principles of engineering safety: Risk and uncertainty reduction
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Principles of engineering safety: Risk and uncertainty reduction
2008 (English)In: Reliability Engineering & System Safety, ISSN 0951-8320, E-ISSN 1879-0836, Vol. 93, no 6, 798-805 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article provides a systematised account of safety engineering practices that clarifies their relation to the goal of safety engineering, namely to increase safety. We list 24 principles referred to in the literature of safety engineering, dividing them into four major categories: Inherently safe design, Safety reserves, Safe fail and Procedural safeguards. It emerges from this systematisation that important aspects of these methods can be better understood with the help of the distinction between risk and uncertainty.

Keyword
safety, risk, uncertainty, probabilistic risk analysis, safety engineering, probabilistic safety analysis, Inherently safe design, safety factors, Safe fail
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-14335 (URN)10.1016/j.ress.2007.03.031 (DOI)000255103300003 ()2-s2.0-39749101321 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20100803Available from: 2010-08-03 Created: 2010-08-03 Last updated: 2017-12-12Bibliographically approved

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