, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 151-168,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 28 Sep 2010

Should Probabilistic Design Replace Safety Factors?


Safety is a concern in almost all branches of engineering. Whereas safety was traditionally introduced by applying safety factors or margins to the calculated maximum load, this approach is increasingly replaced with probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) as a tool for dimensioning safety measures. In this paper, the two approaches are compared in terms of what they aim at and what they can, in fact, achieve. The outcome of this comparison suggests that the two approaches should be seen as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. PRA is particularly useful for priority setting and for the effect evaluation of safety measures; however, in most applications, uncertainties prevent PRA from providing an objective probability of failure or value of damage. Safety factors are indispensible for dealing with dangers that cannot be assigned meaningful probabilities.