Professional and Career Topics

  • 1.  What is your definition of safety?

    Posted 10-26-2022 10:07 AM
    What is your definition of safety?

    From a technical standpoint, one could say it is the margin of acceptable risk AKA the Safety Factor.

    For each discipline, the definition may vary.  In a more conceptual manner, we could call it a mind-set, culture, or value... but this is not something exclusive to safety.  How do you think safety should be defined from an engineering perspective and how can we make an abstract more concrete and teachable?

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    Chad Morrison P.E., F.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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  • 2.  RE: What is your definition of safety?

    Posted 10-31-2022 10:32 AM
    "Safety" is a well defined science with a protocol, not a matter of common sense or personal interpretation.  Safety science analyses the level of risk of possible hazards, identifies hazards of significant risk through a matrix that assesses probability and consequence, then mitigates the defined hazards of significant risk through an established hierarchy to reduce the risk of harm to an acceptable level.  When all identified hazards of significant risk are reduced to acceptable levels, the condition is "safe".  Administering and maintaining the hazard mitigation techniques is risk management.  Recognizing that safety is not common sense, and referring to a safety professional for guidance would go a long way toward reducing property damage, personal injury and death.

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    George Widas P.E., M.ASCE
    consulting engineer
    Venice FL
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  • 3.  RE: What is your definition of safety?

    Posted 27 days ago
    This is a very precise definition. Does it apply to the word as it used in the ASCE Code of Ethics? When does an engineer qualify as said Safety Professional?

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    Chad Morrison P.E., F.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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  • 4.  RE: What is your definition of safety?

    Posted 10-31-2022 01:46 PM

    I think safety is a good term for directionally setting goals or performance – and for communicating with the public –  but for precision one really needs to talk about risk. A key question when talking about safety (e.g., for different disciplines, activities, or outcomes) is how safe is safe enough. The Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines safety as the condition of being safe from undergoing or causing hurt, injury, or loss; and safe, as free from harm or risk.  I find this confusing as it conflates risk and safety. This ambiguity is overcome when safety is put into context using a risk analysis. Here, I really like how Kaplan and Garrick, in their 1981 paper On The Quantitative Definition of Risk (See https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1216/ML12167A133.pdf) . Kaplan and Garrick break risk analysis down into answering these three questions: 1. What can go wrong? 2. How likely is it to go wrong? 3. If it does go wrong, what are the consequences? Kaplan and Garrick call this a triplet<S, P, X> where S is a scenario identification or description; P, is the probability of that scenario; and X, is the consequence or evaluation measure of that scenario, i.e., the measure of damage.

    In terms of examples…The built environment will always have inherent uncertainty (e.g., loading and material properties) but we can manage the risk to a safe level by application of safety factors in ASD or load and resistance factors LRFD design. The underlying probability of failure is probably in the 10-4 to 10-5 range. The realm of codes and standards is to package this in a way that achieves consistent and repeatable safe outcomes and allows us to communicate safety to the public in a simplified manner. Alternatively, safety in the context of the workers that construct the bult environment is another matter. Here we strive to eliminate risk through procedures and protocols. These would include not walking under suspended loads, using fall protection when working at heights, staying out of the line of fire, etc.

    I think most everything we do as civil engineers involves managing risk to acceptably safe levels through implicit or explicit action. Safety is a shorthand for communication. 



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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 5.  RE: What is your definition of safety?

    Posted 25 days ago
    Q. "How do you think safety should be defined from an engineering perspective and how can we make an abstract more concrete and teachable?"

    A. The P.E. license states, or it used to, that the role of the engineer is "To protect the safety, health, and welfare of the public."

    The above contributor's dialogue begins to articulate what that means for engineers.

    Which while necessary is not sufficient.

    First one needs to define and then understand the system for the protection of the public which includes, but is not
    ever satisficed only by engineering.

    Cheers,
    Bill


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    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
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