2014 – Is it Safe Enough? The Dam Safety Case

Shane McGrath, Phillip Cummins, and David Stewart

Dam owners and regulators now commonly use risk assessment techniques to assist with decision making for an individual dam or a portfolio of dams. In many cases risk assessment is used to select an optimal course of action in relation to ongoing safety performance of dams, including the achievement of public safety objectives. However, whilst it is an important tool, the use of risk assessment alone is not sufficient to establish that a dam is “safe”.
In modern organisations, business objectives are achieved through a systematic approach to management which described simply sets out what needs to be achieved, how the required outcomes will be delivered and audits the process and results.
In hazardous industries such as mining, chemical, nuclear and dams, it is necessary to reliably achieve business objectives such as product volumes, unit costs and workplace health and safety alongside public safety objectives. In the dams industry, dam safety management systems are now being implemented to document how the organisation satisfies its corporate and business objectives, governance responsibilities and risk management processes.
It is also common in hazardous industries that a “safety case” is required by regulators to demonstrate that the owner has identified what could go wrong at its facility, what controls are in place and that there is a system in place to ensure that the controls are reliable. Whilst dam owners may rely on a dam safety risk assessment to meet regulatory obligations and demonstrate due diligence, the results of risk assessments are not routinely documented sufficiently to satisfy a “safety case” and therefore will not fully meet the organisation’s requirements.
Many dam owners are also responsible for the safety management of other hazardous facilities, such as urban water and mining corporations which typically manage hazardous chemical installations and hazardous or toxic waste disposal. For such organisations, the corporate awareness and processes should already exist to extend the “safety case” philosophy to the management of their dams.
This paper sets out the importance of a dam “safety case”, the essential elements of a safety case and its relationship to the dam safety management system.

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