2021 – Poster Paper – Aspects considered in the selection of individual risk tolerability threshold for referable dams in Queensland

Chris Nielsen, Irene Buckman

As individuals, we are concerned about how a risk affects us and the things we value
personally. We may be willing to live with a risk if it secures us certain benefits and if the
risk is kept low and clearly controlled. We are less tolerant of risks over which we have little

ANCOLD’s risk assessment guideline (2003) identifies an individual risk threshold as being
one where “the dam safety risk to an individual should be close to the average background
risk of the population”. This is a principle of equity, where “all individuals have
unconditional rights to certain levels of protection” (HSE, 2001). The definition of
population at risk applied to Queensland’s referable dams (DNRME, 2018), being
individuals within a residence or workplace and typically not participating in any risky
activities such as driving a vehicle or walking through flooded waters, provides further
justification of this right.

In practice addressing societal risk tolerances and duty of care considerations may result in
individual risks being substantially lower than the thresholds. This may not always be the
case and, irrespective, should not distort the purpose of the individual risk tolerance test;
the principle of equity that drives individual risk tolerability has foundations in our societal
values and is easily and widely understood as a core value. This should be succinctly
described when justifying expenditure on risky infrastructure such as dams.
This poster describes aspects to consider when selecting a threshold individual risk
tolerance. Subject to site-specific considerations of the particular age group of individuals
most at risk, the wider benefit of the dam to society and ALARP, a single threshold
individual risk tolerance of less than 10-5 per annum (or 1 in 100,000 years) would appear

The aspects described are elaborated in the revised Guidelines on Safety Standards for
Referable Dams, soon to be published on the Queensland Government website (RDMW,

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