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Risk Acceptance

Accepting risk is a function of both risk assessment and risk management. Risk acceptance is not a simple matter and the concept is difficult for some to accept. Several points must be kept in mind.

(1) Risk is a fundamental reality.


(2) Risk management is a process of tradeoffs.

(3) Quantifying risk doesn’t ensure safety.

(4) Risk is a matter of perspective.


On the surface, taking risks seems foolish and to be avoided. Everything we do, however, involves risk. Defining acceptable risk is subjective and perceived risks are often as important as actual risks. Risks imposed on us by others are generally considered to be less unacceptable than those inherent in nature. There are dangers in every type of travel, but there are dangers in staying home–40 percent of all fatal accidents occur there. There are dangers in eating most food caused by pesticides, preservatives, natural fats, or just eating more than necessary. There are breathing related dangers in industrial and urban areas. The results of air pollution leads to the death of at least 10,000 Americans each year; inhaling natural radioactivity is believed to kill a similar number; and many diseases are contracted by inhaling germs. 12,000 Americans are killed each year in job related accidents, and probably 10 times that number die from job related illness. There are dangers in exercising and dangers in not getting enough exercise. Risk is an unavoidable part of our everyday lives.


We all accept risk, knowingly or unknowingly. In a FAA program, it is the ultimately the responsibility of the MA to determine how much and what kind is to be accepted and what is not. In the real word, making this decision is a trade-off process involving many inputs. As tradeoffs are being considered and the design progresses, it may become evident that some of the safety parameters are forcing higher program risk. From the program manager’s perspective, a relaxation of one or more of the established parameters may appear to be advantageous when considering the broader perspective of cost and performance optimization. The program manager has the authority and responsibility, in some circumstances, to make a decision against the recommendation of his system safety manager. The system safety manager must recognize such management prerogatives.


A prudent program manager must make a decision whether to fix the identified problem or formally document acceptance of the added risk. In some cases, this requires contract or system specification modification. When the program manager decides to accept the risk, the decision must be coordinated with all affected organizations and then documented so that in future years everyone will know and understand the elements of the decision and why it was made. It also provides necessary data if the decision must be revisited.

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