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ELEC4011 Ethics & Electrical

Engineering Practice
Hugh Outhred
Contents
Ethical basis for concern for safety
Concepts of safety & risk
Risk and decision making
Variability in attitudes to risk
Socially responsible engineering:
Risk management
Design for safety
Facilitate informed choice by user

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Safety
Safety of one or more human beings:
Absence of harm
Relative, not absolute:
To live involves an irreducible level of risk
Assessment of safety by an individual or group:
Requires:
Unbiased interpretation of all relevant information
Appropriate skills to develop an informed opinion

Sufficient time to reach a (consensus) decision

Outcome: an assessment of relative safety

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ELEC4011 - Lecture 7: The Engineer's Concern for
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Risk (Hazard)
Potential for an unwanted outcome from an action:
e.g. physical injury to one or more people
Two aspects:
Nature of unwanted outcome(s), e.g:
Physical injury
Negative impacts on quality of life

Environmental damage

Uncertainty surrounding outcomes:


Sometimes this can be quantified
Useful test: how much would I regret each possible
outcome?
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Some sources of
uncertainty
Manufacture:
Design errors, component quality, assembly
errors
Installation & operation:
Installation errors & cost over-runs
Equipment failure, operator error, volatility in
input costs, external factors such as weather
End of life:
Dismantling and disposal costs and impacts

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Two views of uncertainty
Statistical viewpoint:
Events determined by stable probability
distributions:
probability distributions may be derived from statistical
analysis of past experience in similar situations
Hence risk is an objective issue
Scenario viewpoint:
Past behaviour not a reliable guide to the future:
Technological, social and environmental change
Expectations influenced by social & corporate culture

Hence risk is a subjective issue


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Cost

Totalcost
(directplusindirectcosts)

Indirectcost
Directcost (repairs,litigation,
(includingsafetyfeatures) damagedreputation)

Risk
Minimumtotalcost
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Risk-response matrix
Likelihood Noprior Hasoccurred Hasoccurred Happens Happens
ofincident experience occasionally recently annually severaltimes
Consequence peryear
Minimal
impact
Slightimpact
Managefor
e.g.minor continuous
injury improvement
Considerable
impact,e.g Initiaterisk
majorinjury reduction
Major
impact,e.g.
measures
fatality Intolerable
National
impact,e.g.
multiple
fatality

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Practical & moral issues
Complete safety impossible:
How safe is safe enough?
Are risks distributed differently from benefits?
Quantification of indirect costs can be difficult:
Value of human life?
What indirect costs should be considered?
Minimum total cost might exceed socially
acceptable risk:
Who should decide?

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Individual attitudes to
risk
Attitudes influenced by a range of factors:
Voluntary versus involuntary
Controllable versus uncontrollable
Work-related versus recreational
Severity of potential harm
Extent of relevant knowledge & skills
Individual preferences
Attitudes dont always appear rational:
Should this affect our respect for them?

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Societal attitudes to risk
Obscured by the diversity of individual attitudes
Must be assessed indirectly:
Expert groups
Public interest advocacy bodies
Focus groups (random or targeted selection)
Judicial determination:
Societal norms develop from a history of litigation
Social attitudes evolve through time:
Continuing need for informed consent

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Safe exits & prudent
avoidance
Safe exits (last lines of defence):
Equipment fails safely or can be abandoned safely:
dead-mans handle for train drivers, safety-belts,
airbags
User can escape safely
e.g. aircraft parachutes and/or escape slides
Prudent avoidance (a quasi-legal obligation):
Avoid unjustified risk to other people
Both may require coordination between
Designers, managers, users & the public
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Conclusions
Engineers have a concern for safety:
Duty to equipment users and the public
Issues in considering risk & safety:
Subjective, with variations in individual
assessment
There is often a trade-off between safety & cost
Tools for arriving at a reasonable balance:
Public involvement in decision making
Risk management in design
Safe exits and prudent avoidance
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