Managing risks with the Science of Danger

3 October 2013

Michel Lesbats IUT HSE Department
Bordeaux 1 University

Why set up a Science of Danger ?

The study of the socio-professional world shows a large variety of ways in which people perceive danger. These perceptions vary according to what kind of domain this danger is set up in, i.e. the individual (at work, at home!), a population, the nature or the installation (plant). The diversity of these centres of interest has led to different activities, study techniques and preventive measures (ergonomics, health and safety in industrial surroundings, human reliability, installations security/health and safety, sanitary engineering, applied ecology, epidemiology, industrial toxicology, crisis management, occupational hygiene...) which coexist but, more often than not, ignore one another. These activities have led to professions which need specialised training and various qualifications and finally end up being very compartmentalised jobs. This lack of co-ordination is very damaging, especially nowadays, a time of greater internationalisation of danger prevention rules in order to protect better the workers, populations, the environment and premises. This has led us to consider a common problematic of the various perceptions of danger and the ways it is dealt with, in order to set up a possible new field of knowledge: the Science of Danger.

This reflexion has three goals:

  • An operational one : it is necessary to develop and/or to differentiate the methods and tools needed to identify, control and manage the possible dangers.

- An educational one : to create the educational tools while taking into account the fact that the Science of Danger has trans-disciplinary aspects.

- A cultural one : in short, the aim of the Science of Danger is to improve the actual level and the one perceived, of people’s safety, mainly when dealing with techno-science. The authentic prevention of hazards generated by industrial techniques must always start as far upstream as possible, at the level of the acceptability of the risk… The fact to know, from the start, whether a risk is acceptable or not decides about all subsequent considerations and analysis…The acceptability of risks having a technical origin relies essentially on the notions of meaning and value.

What does Science of Danger mean ?

Science of Danger is a field of knowledge, the object of which is to apprehend Unwanted Events (Evénements Non Souhaités or E.N.S. in French). Unwanted Events are the malfunctions likely have unwanted consequences on the individual, a population, the ecosystem or installations. They originate from and act on the structure, the activity as well as the evolution of natural and artificial systems.

What kind of knowledge is it made of ?

Science of Danger is knowledge pertaining to various Danger Techniques, structured around problematic of methodology and around defined and varied tools (ergonomics, health and safety in industrial surroundings, human reliability, safety of the installations, dependability, sanitary engineering, applied ecology, epidemiology, industrial toxicology, crisis management...).
These Danger Techniques themselves take root in a great number of applied sciences (work physiology, ecology, toxicology work law, environmental law, engineering, work psycho-sociology, sociology of organisations…). These applied sciences are themselves related to fundamental sciences (mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, law, economics, sociology…).

Science of Danger and complexity

By defining more accurately the key words of the definition (which, at first glance, looks quite trivial), we can now fix the scope of the problematic of Science of Danger, and isolate the components defining the intricacy of the situations to which it applies.

The classical disciplines mainly study repetitive processes, which can be reproduced, verified, that are permanent and reversible. Those disciplines have been well-tried. Their efficiency is at the basis of the progress defining our industrial society. Science of Danger studies events, that is to say, at first analysis, what can’t be foreseen, the unlikely, the accidental, what can’t be controlled, the irreversible, what remains after rationality has been applied… Many difficulties appear…The notion of unwanted event is anthropocentric. The same type of event can (according to the times, the socio-cultural situations, the strategies or the roles of the individuals) be unwelcomed by some, seem indifferent to others or even be wished for a few others. If we claim we want to apprehend such events, we therefore imply by methodological principles that they are not random events. The event is produced by association, the combination and interconnection of events, all happening on very varied time scales (short-term, medium term, long term) during the coming together or the disturbance of structured sets. To study the event, in a way, consists in solving the paradox of demonstrating as unavoidable something that, at first analysis, was considered as unforeseeable. Taking into consideration the above mentioned comments, it is easy to see that the basic knowledge pertaining to the Science of Danger is very vast (sciences of the matter, of nature, human sciences) heterogeneous (reference to ethics, theoretical and empirical knowledge). The teaching of this knowledge therefore needs, beforehand, an epistemological reflexion in order to define a common language and transversal concepts. The systemic approach is the best global approach of these complex situations.

The reference model, the process of danger, is built in several phases:

  • Phase I : general representation of the source and target systems. Depending on the question, technical knowledge and / or science offer us various representations of these systems. Some disciplines offer structural knowledge about the system, other representations of operation, others, again, offer models of its internal development or behavior in relation to its environment.
  • Second phase representation of source of danger and processes that process be affected danger. In the source system, it is necessary to identify the sources of process hazards - objects couples processors, processes, objects. In the target system, you must also identify the processes - objects couples processors, object-processes that are likely to be affected, the impact of danger. These events are called Non Wish Effects of danger. These processes are to identify cognitive processes, relational processes, technological and biological processes. These processes can be considered as sources of danger but also as targets that are affected by the danger process..
  • Third phase modeling process … It is safe to connect the sources of danger process processes may be affected at the target hazard. The connection is performed by modeling flow hazard . source flow target - oriented source - target-oriented représentation, built connection is immersed in a field of danger. This danger field is lined with processes that can influence the state of the source system therefore, sources of danger process flow but also the target system then processes that take place and who may be affected of danger. There are three types of flows of danger: the danger flows of matter, energy and information. These flows can be processes by the field - concept processors field - by processors of time (chronic flow, time-limited flow) of space processors (timely flow, diffuse). The proposed reference model is not only a technical and topographical model. It can be used to represent the process of danger microscopic level to the macroscopic level (level of understanding of ENS) and to represent the same reality as aspects that can be very different (cognitive, relational processes, technical and biological). The choice of one aspect may depend, among other things, the type of question the modeler.

A general method of knowledge and action can be defined:

Identify, evaluation, control, manage locally and generally the Unwanted Events.

  • The identification of the Unwanted Events within the danger process consists, a priori or a posteriori, in locating them at the level of the danger process, that is to say : to look for the origin of the danger flows at the level of the source system (in its structure, its functioning, its evolution or in the effect that the active environment produces there), therefore at the level of the process that take place there (cognitive, relational, technological and biological processes),
    > to seek the creating or amplifying effects of the danger flow, caused by the field processors,
    > to seek the effects caused by the danger flow on the target system.
  • The evaluation of the Unwanted Events consists, a priori or a posteriori, in carrying out a risk analysis (probability of occurrence or frequency, seriousness ) by means of identified tools taken from the various Techniques of Danger (Safety, Ergonomics, Sanitary Engineering, Hygiene and Public Health…).
    >The available evaluation scales can be quantitative (cardinal), qualitative (ordinal); they all aim at giving us information about the occurrence of a risk and its seriousness.
    >The analysis methods and the evaluation tools for the Unwanted Events can be classified into several groups: a priori, a posteriori, technico-legal, scientifical and technical. We suggest to choose them according to the type of question the modeller has been asked but also according to the time he has to carry them out.
  • The control of the Unwanted Events in a danger process consists in acting, a priori or a posteriori (return of experience), in order to decrease the probability of occurrence (or the frequency) of the Unwanted Event, as well as its seriousness.
    >Acting on the danger source system and at the level of the processes that take place there (without neglecting the effect the danger field can have on their state). These preventive actions can therefore have several aspects: controlling internal initiative events in the source system, controlling negative effects of the field on the source system and on the various processes that take place there, controlling the danger flow after it has appeared in the source system, acting on the outer interface of the source system…
    >Acting at the level of the danger flow and before its effect on the target system, or acting at the level of the target system itself so as to decrease the seriousness of the effects on the processes that take place there (without neglecting the action the danger field can have in order to increase the effects of the flow on the target system processes).
    >Therefore, controlling the Unwanted Events consists in setting up regulation processes that are technological, relational, cognitive and biological which take place at the level of the systems that are source or target of the danger. These regulations constitute real barriers trying to control the danger process.
  • Managing, locally and generally, the Unwanted Events within the danger process consists in thinking, a priori or a posteriori, about actions to set up in order to increase at one’s level (local or general), the efficiency of the identification, analysis and control of the danger processes. These managing tasks of the danger process are organisation and piloting tasks (governance). We can determine at least three categories of actors in the local and general management of danger processes: the managers of the system source of danger (and flow), the managers of the system target of the danger and the managers of the danger field.


Le portail du risque QHSE:
Précis de Gestion des risques - M Lesbats, 224 p. – Ed. Dunod /Sciences Sup, 2012

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