Hazard Analysis Techniques

Hazard analysis is a set of systematic but informal techniques intended to expose potentially hazardous system states. Using hazard analysis helps us find strategies to prevent or mitigate harm once we understand what problems can occur. That is, hazard analysis ferrets out not only the effects of problems but also their likely causes so that we can then apply an appropriate technique for preventing a problem or softening its consequences. Hazard analysis usually involves creating hazard lists as well as procedures for exploring “what if” scenarios to trigger consideration of nonobvious hazards. The problems’ sources can be lurking in any artifacts of the development or maintenance process, not just in the code. There are many kinds of problems, ranging from incorrect information or code, to unclear consequences of a particular action. A good hazard analysis takes all of them into account.


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Different techniques support the identification and management of potential hazards in complex critical systems. Among the most effective are hazard and operability studies (HAZOP), failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA), and fault tree analysis (FTA). HAZOP is a structured analysis technique originally developed for the process control and chemical plant industries. FMEA is a bottom-up technique applied at the system component level. A team identifies each component’s possible faults or fault modes; then, it determines what could trigger the fault and what systemwide effects each fault might have. By keeping system consequences in mind, the team often finds possible system failures that are not made visible by other analytical means. FTA complements FMEA. It is a top-down technique that begins with a postulated hazardous system malfunction. Then, the FTA team works backwards to identify the possible precursors to the mishap. By tracing from a specific hazardous malfunction, the team can derive unexpected contributors to mishaps and identify opportunities to mitigate the risk of mishaps.

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