2020 – Dam Safety Due Diligence demands SFAIRP not ALARP

Richard M Robinson, Siraj Perera, Gaye Francis

Due diligence has become endemic in Australian legislation and in case law, to the point that it has become, in the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s terms, a categorical imperative. That is, our lawmakers seem to have decided that due diligence is universal in its application and creates a moral justification for action. This also means the converse, that failure to act demands sanction against the failed decision maker.

This applies to dam safety management which represents the archetypical high consequence – low likelihood event. It is now essential to have positively demonstrated safety due diligence in a way that can withstand post-event judicial scrutiny. Presently the only way this can be done is by using the notion of criticality and precaution, not hazard and risk. The test is not that of risk acceptability (as low as reasonably practicable or ALARP), rather it is that no further reasonably practicable precautions (so far as is reasonably practicable or SFAIRP) are available, and that what results is not prohibitively dangerous.

This paper will document the difference between the two approaches and how to positively demonstrate safety due diligence. It also discusses the definition of ALARP as stated in ANCOLD’s Guidelines on Risk Assessment 2003 and the relevance of the safety case principle for dam safety management.

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