Safety and decision-making
Abstract: Safety is an important topic for a wide range of disciplines, such as engineering, economics, sociology, psychology, political science and philosophy, and plays a central role in risk analysis and risk management. The aim of this thesis is to develop a concept of safety that is relevant for decision-making, and to elucidate its consequences for risk and safety research and practices.Essay I provides a conceptual analysis of safety in the context of societal decision-making, focusing on some fundamental distinctions and aspects, and argues for a more complex notion than what is commonly given. This concept of safety explicitly includes epistemic uncertainty, the degree to which we are uncertain of our knowledge of the situation at hand. It is discussed the extent to which such a concept may be considered an objective concept, and concluded that it is better seen as an intersubjective concept. Some formal versions of a comparative safety concept are also proposed.Essay II explores some consequences of epistemic uncertainty. It is commonly claimed that the public is irrational in its acceptance of risks. An underlying presumption in such a claim is that the public should follow the experts’ advice in recommending an activity whenever the experts have better knowledge of the risk involved. This position is criticised based on considerations from epistemic uncertainty and the goal of safety. Furthermore, it is shown that the scope of the objection covers the entire field of risk research, risk assessment as well as risk management.Essay III analyses the role of epistemic uncertainty for principles of achieving safety in an engineering context. The aim is to show that to account for common engineering principles we need the understanding of safety that has been argued for in Essays I-II. Several important principles in engineering safety are analysed, and it is argued that we cannot fully account for them on a narrow interpretation of safety as the reduction of risk (understanding risk as the combination of probability and severity of harm). An adequate concept of safety must include not only the reduction of risk but also the reduction of uncertainty.
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