AS/NZS ISO 31000:2018 defines risk as “effect of uncertainty on objectives” and
risk management as “coordinated activities to direct and control an organisation with regard to risk”. Therefore it is implied that engineering risk is the effect of uncertainty on engineering objectives.
If we accept that risk engineering is a specialised form of risk management, then to be consistent with ISO 31000, risk engineering could be defined as coordinated activities to direct and control an organisation with regard to engineering risk.
Risk engineering can also be defined as the identification, prioritisation and control of the material risks which may impact engineering outcomes, processes and systems, cost, schedule, quality and safety. It involves the application of engineering methods to deal with all forms of uncertainty (including loss and opportunity). Risk engineering encompasses the entire management lifecycle from concept, design and construction; through operations management; to decommissioning and disposal or re-engineering, repurposing, reuse and recycling.
Risk engineering is informed by the requirements of the specific context, broader corporate environment and management organisation. It is also shaped by inputs from other internal and external stakeholders including relevant or involved engineering disciplines.
Risk engineering in projects
In the context of projects, risk engineering is commonly associated with uncertain events or conditions within the project scope that, if they eventuate, could have a negative impact on the project’s objectives, or expose the project to regulatory non-compliance. At the project concept stage, identified risks can be dealt with as opportunities to improve the project's scope to be more resilient or achieve more beneficial outcomes.
Generally, risk engineering should be performed using a system framework that accounts for uncertainties in modelling, behaviour and prediction, and interaction between the system's components. The framework should also assess impact on the system and its surrounding environment.
Risk engineering elements
Typical elements of risk engineering include:
- Safety assurance
- Safety in design (SID)
- Process safety
- Systems assurance
- Fault analysis
- Reliability engineering
- Resilience engineering
- Hazardous operations studies (HazOp, HazID)
- Probabilistic risk determination (QRA)
Some specific tasks that might be involved in risk engineering are:
- Reviewing and influencing project proposals
- Investigations, reporting and appearing as expert witnesses e.g. in court, before royal commissions, on expert panels
- Raising public awareness of risk issues in engineering contexts e.g. by presenting conference papers, publishing in journals, contributing to communities of practice and bodies of knowledge, posting on social media
- Advocating for improved engineering practices to increase safety, reliability and resilience.
Risk engineering can vary depending on the context where it is applied, including different project fields, locations and environments, or engineering disciplines.
For example, in a chemical engineering context, risk engineering might involve the application of quantitative risk assessment methods to consider the likelihood and consequence of hazards or events, and developing models to represent the behaviour of systems, events or scenarios of interest.
In an environmental engineering context, risk engineering might also involve investigating how to reduce the existential risk posed by the effects of climate change to the ongoing existence of flora, fauna and humans in various socio-economic groups.
In product development risk engineering workshop to improve equipment performance by application of tools like failure mode, effects and criticality analysis (FMECA).
The insurance industry employs risk engineering principles to identify and reduce loss exposures of industrial plant.
The content on this page was primarily sourced from:
- Webinar titled ‘Perspectives on Risk: Engineers, frameworks and new ways of thinking’, delivered to REBOK Community on 29 May 2018 by Warren Black, Principal and Founder, Complexus
- Material supplied by Brian Njamba, MBA, Meng (Oil & Gas), BEng (Chemical) (Hons)
- Material supplied by Ian Thomas, BScHons(ChemEng), MEngSci(EnvEng), FIChemE, FIEAust, FRACI, FSIA, CEng, CPEng, CChem, RSP(Aust)
- Peer review by Geoff Hurst, President RES, FIEAust CPENG CHOHSP
Input from Kevin Foster, 24 June 2020.