Adopting Safe-by-Design in Science and Engineering Academia: The Soil May Need Tilling

Sam Jan Cees Krouwel*, Emma Rianne Dierickx, Sara Heesterbeek, Pim Klaassen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In recent years, Safe-by-Design (SbD) has been launched as a concept that supports science and engineering such that a broad conception of safety is embraced and structurally embedded. The present study explores the extent to which academics in a distinctively relevant subset of science and engineering disciplines are receptive towards the work and teaching practices SbD would arguably imply. Through 29 interviews with researchers in nanotechnology, biotechnology and chemical engineering differences in perceptions of safety, life-cycle thinking and responsibility for safety were explored. Results indicate that although safety is perceived as a paramount topic in scientific practice, its meaning is rigorously demarcated, marking out safety within the work environment. In effect, this creates a limited perceived role responsibility vis-à-vis safety in the production of knowledge and in teaching, with negligible critical consideration of research’s downstream impacts. This is at odds with the adoption of a broader conception of, and responsibility for, safety. The considerations supporting the perceived boundaries demarcating scientific practice are scrutinized. This study suggests that implementing SbD in academia requires systemic changes, the development of new methods, and attention for researchers’ and innovators’ elementary views on the meaning of and responsibility for safety throughout the innovation chain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2075
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Academia
  • Responsibility
  • Responsible research and innovation
  • Safe innovation
  • Safe-by-Design
  • Teaching and education


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