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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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Utilitarianism & risk
Cost

Total cost
(direct plus indirect costs)

Indirect cost
Direct cost (repairs, litigation,
(including safety features) damaged reputation)

Risk
Minimum total cost
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Risk-response matrix
Likelihood No prior Has occurred Has occurred Happens Happens
of incident experience occasionally recently annually several times
Consequence per year
Minimal
impact
Slight impact
Manage for
e.g. minor continuous
injury improvement
Considerable
impact, e.g Initiate risk
major injury 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 don’t 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-man’s 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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