Safe-by-design in engineering: An overview and comparative analysis of engineering disciplines

P. van Gelder, P. Klaassen, B. Taebi, B. Walhout, R. van Ommen, I. van de Poel, Z. Robaey, L. Asveld, R. Balkenende, F. Hollmann, E.J. van Kampen, N. Khakzad, R. Krebbers, J. de Lange, W. Pieters, K. Terwel, E. Visser, T. van der Werff, D. Jung

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.In this paper, we provide an overview of how Safe-by-Design is conceived and applied in practice in a large number of engineering disciplines. We discuss the differences, commonalities, and possibilities for mutual learning found in those practices and identify several ways of putting those disciplinary outlooks in perspective. The considered engineering disciplines in the order of historically grown technologies are construction engineering, chemical engineering, aerospace engineering, urban engineering, software engineering, bio-engineering, nano-engineering, and finally cyber space engineering. Each discipline is briefly introduced, the technology at issue is described, the relevant or dominant hazards are examined, the social challenge(s) are observed, and the relevant developments in the field are described. Within each discipline the risk management strategies, the design principles promoting safety or safety awareness, and associated methods or tools are discussed. Possible dilemmas that the designers in the discipline face are highlighted. Each discipline is concluded by discussing the opportunities and bottlenecks in addressing safety. Commonalities and differences between the engineering disciplines are investigated, specifically on the design strategies for which empirical data have been collected. We argue that Safe-by-Design is best considered as a specific elaboration of Responsible Research and Innovation, with an explicit focus on safety in relation to other important values in engineering such as well-being, sustainability, equity, and affordability. Safe-by-Design provides for an intellectual venue where social science and the humanities (SSH) collaborate on technological developments and innovation by helping to proactively incorporate safety considerations into engineering practices, while navigating between the extremes of technological optimism and disproportionate precaution. As such, Safe-by-Design is also a practical tool for policymakers and risk assessors that helps shape governance arrangements for accommodating and incentivizing safety, while fully acknowledging uncertainty.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6329
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2021


Funding: Ibo van de Poel’s contribution is part of the project ValueChange that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 788321. Frank Hollmann gratefully acknowledges funding by the European Research Commission (ERC consolidator grant, No. 648026) and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (VICI grant, No. 724.014.003). Behnam Taebi’s work for this article is part of the research programme. Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies, which is funded through the Gravitation Programme of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO grant number 024.004.031). This work is part of both the research programme “Virtues for Innovation in Practice (VIPs): A Virtue Ethics Account of Responsibility for Biotechnology” with project number VI. Veni.191F.010, which is financed by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and a research project on Safe-by-Design in Biotechnology funded by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.

FundersFunder number
Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science
European Research Commission648026
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme788321
European Research Council
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek724.014.003, 024.004.031
Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management


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