2018 – Dam Safety Decision Making

Jane Branson – Principal Economist, Jacobs Australia, Kelly Maslin – Executive Director of Operations – Southern, Jacobs Australia, Samantha Watt – Associate, Jacobs Australia, Chriselyn Kavanagh – Senior Surface Water Engineer, Jacobs Australia

Since publication in 2003, the ANCOLD Guidelines for Risk Assessment have reached broad acceptance and use in Australia. In practice, dam owners use the principles of risk assessment to drive business investment decisions. As the guidelines undergo revision, it is timely to assess whether our practices need to evolve to more holistically consider all types of consequences, rather than our current focus on loss of life, in decision-making. This paper aims to prompt dam owners and consultants alike to re-assess our focus on loss of life in risk assessment decision-making, and whether we should more meaningfully consider alternative or broader indicators.
An industry survey was undertaken which found that large dam owners are generally happy with the current system of dam safety decision making. However, the survey responses did identify difficulties in relation to justifying investment below the limit of tolerability that are subject to ALARP principles. In a small number of cases, dam owners found it difficult to justify investment when life safety was not important.

Building on the industry survey and subsequent discussions with practitioners, this paper discusses how the current approach to risk based decision making may result in sub optimal decision making. Further it is discussed how there is an important role that economics should play in providing a universally accepted framework for assessing trade-offs and providing consistent evidence to support decision making.

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