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

Pieter van Gelder*, Behnam Taebi, Ruud van Ommen, Ibo van de Poel, Lotte Asveld, Ruud Balkenende, Frank Hollmann, Erik Jan van Kampen, Robbert Krebbers, Jos de Lange, Karel Terwel, Eelco Visser, More Authors

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
56 Downloads (Pure)


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
Number of pages28
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Design for values
  • Responsible research and innovation
  • Risk-based design
  • Safe-by-design
  • Secure-by-design
  • Uncertainty

Cite this