Risk Analysis

On the Ethical Justification for the Use of Risk Acceptance Criteria

Journal Article

To protect people from hazards, the common safety regulation regime in many industries is based on the use of minimum standards formulated as risk acceptance or tolerability limits. The limits are seen as absolute, and in principle these should be met regardless of costs. The justification is ethical—people should not be exposed to a risk level exceeding certain limits. In this article, we discuss this approach to safety regulation and its justification. We argue that the use of such limits is based on some critical assumptions; that low accident risk has a value in itself, that risk can be accurately measured and the authorities specify the limits. However, these assumptions are not in general valid, and hence the justification of the approach can be questioned. In the article, we look closer into these issues, and we conclude that there is a need for rethinking this regulation approach—its ethical justification is not stronger than for alternative approaches. Essential for the analysis is the distinction between ethics of the mind and ethics of the consequences, which has several implications that are discussed.

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