Incorporating Epistemic Uncertainty into the Safety Assurance of Socio-Technical Systems

Chris Leong
Tim Kelly
Rob Alexander

In system development, epistemic uncertainty is an ever-present possibility when reasoning about the causal factors during hazard analysis. Such uncertainty is common when complicated systems interact with one another, and it is dangerous because it impairs hazard analysis and thus increases the chance of overlooking unsafe situations. Uncertainty around causation thus needs to be managed well. Unfortunately, existing hazard analysis techniques tend to ignore unknown uncertainties, and system stakeholders rarely track known uncertainties well through the system lifecycle. In this paper, we outline an approach to managing epistemic uncertainty in existing hazard analysis techniques by focusing on known and unknown uncertainty. We have created a reference populated with a wide range of safety-critical causal relationships to recognise unknown uncertainty, and we have developed a model to systematically capture and track known uncertainty around such factors. We have also defined a process for using the reference and model to assess possible causal factors that are suspected during hazard analysis. To assess the applicability of our approach, we have analysed the widely-used MoDAF architectural model and determined that there is potential for our approach to identify additional causal factors that are not apparent from individual MoDAF views. We have also reviewed an existing safety assessment example (the ARP4761 Aircraft System analysis) and determined that our approach could indeed be incorporated into that process. We have also integrated our approach into the STPA hazard analysis technique to demonstrate its feasibility to incorporate into existing techniques. It is therefore plausible that our approach can increase safety assurance provided by hazard analysis in the face of epistemic uncertainty.

In Alex Groce and Stefan Leue: Proceedings 2nd International Workshop on Causal Reasoning for Embedded and safety-critical Systems Technologies (CREST 2017), Uppsala, Sweden, 29th April 2017, Electronic Proceedings in Theoretical Computer Science 259, pp. 56–71.
Published: 10th October 2017.

ArXived at: bibtex PDF

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