Risk Management: the Economics and Morality of Safety Revisited


The introduction to the proceedings of the Royal Academy of Engineering 2006 seminar on The Economics and Morality of Safety concluded with a list of issues that were “worthy of further exploration”. I have  reduced them to the following questions:

Why do moral arguments about ‘rights’ persist unresolved?

Why can risk managers not agree on a common value for preventing a fatality?

Why do governments and the media react differently to different causes of death?

Why do some institutions profess to be pursuing zero risk, knowing that achieving it is impossible?

Why do some institutions pretend that their risk management problems can be reduced to a calculation in which all significant variables can be represented by a common metric?

Why are societal attitudes and risk communication still seen as problematic after many years investigation?

Why are certain accident investigations, criminal or civil, seen as ‘over zealous’ by some and justifiable by others?

These questions are addressed with the help of a set of risk framing devices. For some my conclusion will be discouraging: all of these issues are likely to remain unresolved. Risk is a word that refers to the future. It has no objective existence. The future exists only in the imagination, and a societal consensus about what the future holds does not exist. … PDF of full paper

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  1. david ropeik says:

    haven’t read the whole paper yet, but will. for now, i would only add (A) Bravo and (B) risk means different hings to different people at different times under different circumstances. “Society” is everybody, but one size will never fit all because “risk” is a person-by-person concept.

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