The derivation and application of risk tolerability criteria

  • Lieu T. Nguyen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research involves a study of the questions, "what is considered safe", how are safety levels defined or decided, and according to whom. Tolerable or acceptable risk questions raise various issues: about values and assumptions inherent in such levels; about decision-making frameworks at the highest level of policy making as well as on the individual level; and about the suitability and competency of decision-makers to decide and to communicate their decisions. The wide-ranging topics covering philosophical and practical concerns examined in the literature review reveal the multi-disciplined scope of this research. To support this theoretical study empirical research was undertaken at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) of the European Space Agency (ESA). ESTEC is a large, multi-nationality, high technology organisation which presented an ideal case study for exploring how decisions are made with respect to safety from a personal as well as organisational aspect. A qualitative methodology was employed to gather, analyse and report the findings of this research. Significant findings reveal how experts perceive risks and the prevalence of informal decision-making processes partly due to the inadequacy of formal methods for deciding risk tolerability. In the field of occupational health and safety, this research has highlighted the importance and need for criteria to decide whether a risk is great enough to warrant attention in setting standards and priorities for risk control and resources. From a wider perspective and with the recognition that risk is an inherent part of life, the establishment of tolerability risk levels can be viewed as cornerstones indicating our progress, expectations and values, of life and work, in an increasingly litigious, knowledgeable and global society.
Date of Award2001
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRichard Booth (Supervisor)


  • derivation
  • application
  • risk tolerability criteria

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