Chapter: Professional Ethics in Engineering : Engineer'S Responsibility For Safety

Safety and Risk

Imagine you are a fresh graduate. · You get a job as an engineer in a large atomic power plant.


Imagine you are a fresh graduate.


·        You get a job as an engineer in a large atomic power plant.

·        Would you take it or not?

·        Under what conditions would you take it?

·        Under what conditions would you not?


·        Why?

People as Consumers:


·        Active Consumers: directly involve themselves e.g., mowing the lawn, washing clothes or toasting bread.


·        Passive Consumers: have less choice and less control e.g., Water, Electricity, Petrol,

·        Bystanders: e.g., exposed to Pollution from unknown sources


What is safe to Entrepreneurs, may not be so to Engineers. e.g., Pilots: "Indian Airports are not safe; Low Vision in Fog―. What is safe to Engineers, may not be so to Public. e.g., Top loading Washing Machine Typically several groups of people are involved in safety matters but have their own interests at stake. Each group may differ in what is safe and what is not.


Concept of Safety


1. ―A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for‖ – John A. Shed 2.„A thing is safe if its risks are judged to be acceptable‟ - William W. Lawrence


·        We buy an ill-designed Iron box in a sale-> Underestimating risk

·        We judge fluoride in water can kill lots of people -> Overestimating risk

·        We hire a taxi, without thinking about its safety -> Not estimating risk

·        How does a judge pass a judgement on safety in these 3 cases?

….So, this definition won't do in real life.


Then, what is acceptable also depends upon the individual or group‘s value judgment. Hence a better, working definition of concept of safety could be, ―A thing is safe (to a certain degree) with respect to a given person or group at a given time if, were they fully aware of its risks and expressing their most settled values, they would judge those risks to be acceptable (to that certain degree).‖ -


Mike Martin and Roland Schinzinger


A thing is NOT SAFE if it exposes us to unacceptable danger or hazard. RISK is the potential that something unwanted and harmful may occur. We take a risk when we undertake something or use a product that is not safe. Risk in technology could include dangers of


bodily harm, economic loss, or environmental degradation. Some may assume that ―safety‖ is a concrete concept, while ―risk‖ is a vague, hypothetical concept


·        In fact, its the other way around

·        Risks always exist. But true safety never exists, except in hypothetical situations

·        So, risk is reality, safety is fantasy

What degree of risk is acceptable?

Safety is a matter of how people would find risks acceptable or unacceptable, if they knew the risks, and are basing their judgments on their most settled value perspective.


So, to this extent, it is objective. Perspectives differ.


To this extent, it is subjective. So, Safety is 'acceptable risk'.

Acceptable Risk


A risk is acceptable when those affected are generally no longer (or not) apprehensive about it.‟ Apprehension (i.e. anxiety) depends largely on factors such as


·        whether the risk is assumed voluntarily.

·        how the probabilities of harm (or benefit) is perceived.

·        job-related or other pressures that causes people to be aware of or to overlook risks.


·        whether the defects of a risky activity or situation are immediately noticeable or close at hand .


·        whether the potential victims are identifiable beforehand.


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