Safety engineering is an engineering discipline which assures that engineered systems provide acceptable levels of safety. It is strongly related to systems engineering, industrial engineering and the subset system safety engineering. Safety engineering assures that a life-critical system behaves as needed, even when components fail.[1][2]

Safety analysis

The two most common fault modeling techniques are called failure mode and effects analysis and fault tree analysis. These techniques are just ways of finding problems and of making plans to cope with failures, as in probabilistic risk assessment. One of the earliest complete studies using this technique on a commercial nuclear plant was the WASH-1400 study, also known as the Reactor Safety Study or the Rasmussen Report.

Failure modes and effects analysis

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is a bottom-up, inductive analytical method which may be performed at either the functional or piece-part level. For functional FMEA, failure modes are identified for each function in a system or equipment item, usually with the help of a functional block diagram. For piece-part FMEA, failure modes are identified for each piece-part component (such as a valve, connector, resistor, or diode). The effects of the failure mode are described, and assigned a probability based on the failure rate and failure mode ratio of the function or component.

Failure modes with identical effects can be combined and summarized in a Failure Mode Effects Summary. When combined with criticality analysis, FMEA is known as Failure Mode, Effects, and Criticality Analysis or FMECA, pronounced "fuh-MEE-kuh".

Fault tree analysis Main article: Fault tree analysis Fault tree analysis (FTA) is a top-down, deductive analytical method. In FTA, initiating primary events such as component failures, human errors, and external events are traced through Boolean logic gates to an undesired top event such as an aircraft crash or nuclear reactor core melt. The intent is to identify ways to make top events less probable, and verify that safety goals have been achieved.

A fault tree diagram

Fault trees are a logical inverse of success trees, and may be obtained by applying de Morgan's theorem to success trees (which are directly related to reliability block diagrams).

FTA may be qualitative or quantitative. When failure and event probabilities are unknown, qualitative fault trees may be analyzed for minimal cut sets. For example, if any minimal cut set contains a single base event, then the top event may be caused by a single failure. Quantitative FTA is used to compute top event probability, and usually requires computer software such as CAFTA from the Electric Power Research Institute or SAPHIRE from the Idaho National Laboratory.

Some industries use both fault trees and event trees. An event tree starts from an undesired initiator (loss of critical supply, component failure etc.) and follows possible further system events through to a series of final consequences. As each new event is considered, a new node on the tree is added with a split of probabilities of taking either branch. The probabilities of a range of "top events" arising from the initial event can then be seen.

Failure prevention

Once a failure mode is identified, it can usually be mitigated by adding extra or redundant equipment to the system. For example, nuclear reactors contain dangerous radiation, and nuclear reactions can cause so much heat that no substance might contain them. Therefore reactors have emergency core cooling systems to keep the temperature down, shielding to contain the radiation, and engineered barriers (usually several, nested, surmounted by a containment building) to prevent accidental leakage. Safety-critical systems are commonly required to permit no single event or component failure to result in a catastrophic failure mode.

Most biological organisms have a certain amount of redundancy: multiple organs, multiple limbs, etc.

For any given failure, a fail-over or redundancy can almost always be designed and incorporated into a system.


  1. Roger L. Brauer. Safety and Health for Engineers. Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2006. ISBN: 978-0-471-75092-5
  2. Frank R. Spellman, Nancy E. Whiting. The Handbook of Safety Engineering: Principles and Applications.2009. ISBN-13: 9781605906720



Health and Safety Engineering Career Overview01:41

Health and Safety Engineering Career Overview

Health and Safety Engineering Career Overview

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