Reducing unknown risk: The safety engineers’ new horizon

Paul Lindhout*, John Kingston-Howlett, Finn Thorbjorn Hansen, Genserik Reniers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
41 Downloads (Pure)


A significant gap exists between accident scenarios as foreseen by company safety management systems and actual scenarios observed in major accidents. The mere fact that this gap exists is pointing at flawed risk assessments, is leaving hazards unmitigated, threatening worker safety, putting the environment at risk and endangering company continuity. This scoping review gathers perspectives reported in scientific literature about how to address these problems. Safety managers and regulators, attempting to reduce and eventually close this gap, not only encounter the pitfalls of poor safety studies, but also the acceptance of ‘unknown risk’ as a phenomenon, companies being numbed by inadequate process safety indicators, unsettled debates between paradigms on improving process safety, and inflexible recording systems in a dynamic industrial environment. The immediacy of the stagnating long term downward major accident rate trend in the Netherlands underlines the need to address these pitfalls. A method to identify and systematically reduce unknown risks is proposed. The main conclusion is that safety management can never be ready with hazard identification and risk assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104330
JournalJournal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Accident rate
  • High reliability organisations
  • Safety management
  • Scenario
  • Seveso III
  • Unknown risk


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