ALARP vs SFAIRP revisited

February 5, 2020

The ALARP (as low as reasonably practicable) versus SFAIRP (so far as is reasonably practicable) debate appears to continue in many places, for example, AS/NZS2885.6:2018 Pipeline Safety Management. The current position of many is that SFAIRP equals ALARP and that any view to the contrary is just arguing about the number of angels on a pinhead.

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

For engineers, the meaning is in the method; results are only consequences. 

SFAIRP represents a fundamental paradigm shift in engineering philosophy and the way engineers are required to conduct their affairs. 

It represents a drastically different way of dealing with future uncertainty. 

It represents the move from the limited hazard, risk and ALARP analysis approach to the more general designers’ criticality, precaution and SFAIRP approach

That is, from:

Is the problem bad enough that we need to do something about it?


Here’s a good idea to deal with a critical issue, why wouldn’t we do it? 

Paradigm is a much misused word and it is perhaps necessary to clarify what it means. 

In Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a paradigm is a universally recognised knowledge system that for a time providea model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners. 

He provides a notable series of scientific turning points associated with names like Copernicus, Newton, Lavoisier and Einstein. 

His point is that a new theory or approach is not accepted by the current practitioners since the theory often affects the work of a specialist group on whom the new theory impinges. 

And in doing so, reflects on much of the work that group has already completed. Its assimilation requires reconstruction of the prior approach and a re-evaluation of prior fact that is seldom completed by a single individual.  

In fact, it usually requires a generational shift.

SFAIRP is paramount in Australian WHS legislation and has flowed into Rail and Marine Safety National law, amongst others. 

In Victoria, SFAIRP has now been incorporated into Environmental legislation. 

And, apart from the fact that SFAIRP is absolutely endemic in Australian legislation with manslaughter provisions to support it proceeding apace, SFAIRP is just a better way to live. 

It presents a positive, outcome driven design approach, always testing for anything else that can be done rather than trusting an unrepeatable (and therefore unscientific) estimation of rarity for why you wouldn’t.

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