Naval Safety Center




System Safety Approach to Acquisition Risk and Cost Management


                                                                                              Click here for system safety resources

Ensuring that all systems, subsystems, and their interfaces operate effectively, without sustaining failures or jeopardizing the safety and health of operators, maintainers, and system mission is a significant acquisition challenge. Acquisition programs can sustain costly setbacks, and even create unnecessary loss of life, if risk factors are not identified and either eliminated or managed effectively in the developmental process and throughout the life of the system. The discipline of System Safety was developed to manage the risks and avert the failures of the American space and rocket program of the late 1950s and early 1960s. It has evolved into a mainstay of acquisition risk management.

System Safety is the accepted methodology for identifying potential hazards during the design process and preventing hazards by addressing their root causes. This methodology proactively identifies risks inherent in a process, reviews operations of systems for possible failure modes and provides a systems engineering practices and principles approach to tracking and resolution (by elimination or management) of potential hazards. System Safety is also an approach for managing safety threats to program viability and cost containment. This is achieved by studying the entire system and its interfaces under all possible operating conditions to identify potential hazards. As such, System Safety should be an integral aspect of the systems engineering process. Although System Safety is meant to be performed throughout all phases of design, it is generally not a process for identifying compliance with regulatory standards after design or construction is completed. On occasion, however, System Safety has been used in an effort to reduce or eliminate hazards that may have been overlooked or improperly accepted during the system design process.

Safety should not be considered an "add on" to the acquisition process. One of the most effective ways to ensure the safety of a system and to manage its financial risk is to incorporate health and safety requirements at the very beginning of the acquisition process, before buying or building the system. Investing in safety early ensures production of systems that are inherently safe with minimal operational safety requirements or restrictions and reduces Total Ownership Cost (TOC) throughout the life of the ship, aircraft, weapon system, etc.

The Department of Defense looks at System Safety as a means of reducing risk through early identification, analysis, elimination, and control of hazards. The System Safety Approach addresses the significant safety challenges facing the Defense Acquisition and occupational safety and health (OSH) communities during planning of ship, weapon, and aircraft systems, subsystems, and their interfaces. When System Safety is not considered at the outset of system development, potential hazards may be designed into a system. If these hazards remain undetected until late in the system design process, greater risk to personnel safety, poor system performance, expensive retrofits, higher budgets, and unfulfilled schedules will be the result. Mil Std 882 (Series) - DoD Standard Practice for System Safety specifically identifies the system safety approach as the best measure to curtail introduction of safety-related design changes. Senior Leaders, Program Managers, OSH Professionals, System Safety Engineers and Architects all have an obligation to see that safety is designed directly into new or legacy systems to ensure their operational effectiveness.

Department of Defense Instruction (DODI) 5000.2, Operation of the Defense Acquisition System contains information on Systems Safety in Enclosure 7. The Instruction requires the Project Manager to "have a comprehensive plan for Human Systems Integration early in the acquisition process to optimize total system performance, minimize total ownership costs, and ensure that the system is built to accommodate the characteristics of the user population that will operate, maintain, and support the system."

Secretary of the Navy Instruction (SECNAVINST) 5000.2D, Implementation of Mandatory Procedures for Major and Non-Major Defense Acquisition Programs and Major and Non-Major Information Technology Acquisition Programs, includes strong requirements for system safety. These are integrated into Chapter 7, Systems Engineering and Human Systems Integration, which states that "the program manager (PM) is accountable for accomplishing program objectives for total life-cycle systems management, including sustainment... PMs shall employ systems engineering as a mechanism to achieve the program objectives of optimal total system performance and minimal total ownership cost (TOC)."

OPNAVINST 5100.24B, Navy System Safety Program Policy, provides policy for the implementation of system safety in the Department of the Navy. The objectives of the system safety policy are to "eliminate or reduce associated mishap risks and thereby improve operational readiness, reduce life cycle cost, and increase environmental and safety and occupational health for all acquisition programs, over the entire program life cycle." The instruction supports all phases of the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) and the Department of Defense acquisition process.

Program Managers

PMs must be aware of how designing safety into systems directly enhances personnel safety, while safeguarding performance, schedule, and cost goals. It is the responsibility of the PM to require a safe system from the contractor and to make safety a priority in system design. The PM has the primary responsibility for ensuring system safety is integral to the systems engineering process and identifying a government lead system safety engineer early in the program to execute the PM's system safety management program. The PM must also prepare a Programmatic Environmental, Safety, and Health Evaluation (PESHE). The PESHE identifies system safety, environmental and occupational health risks, how these risks will be eliminated or managed, and how compliance with regulatory requirements will be achieved throughout the life cycle of the system.

Occupational Safety and Health Professionals

The PM needs a technically qualified safety staff to advise and assist in identifying potential system and operating hazards so that they can be controlled throughout the acquisition process. OSH professionals have special knowledge of problems affecting safety and health, performance, cost, and schedule. To ensure safety during design, development, and testing, the OSH professional can assist with:

  • Hazard Analyses
  • Health Hazard Assessments
  • Safety Assessments
  • Risk Management

System Safety Engineers

System safety engineering optimizes the acquisition process from development to disposal. The Government Lead System Safety Engineer, appointed by the PM, is the primary safety point of contact for all aspects of the system. He or she develops a system safety management approach for the acquisition program and documents the approach in the Government's System Safety Management Plan (SSMP). The Government Lead System Safety Engineer also ensures the contractor has a System Safety Program Plan (SSPP) for development of the system. To successfully carry out the system safety program for a given acquisition program, the Government Lead System Safety Engineer establishes a System Safety Working Group (SSWG) made up of Government and contractor representatives. The SSWG is responsible for implementing system safety program requirements outlined in the SSMP and SSPP.

The chart below outlines the System Safety Process of controlling hazards during the acquisition cycle through hazard analyses and tests. Click here to download the chart as an easier-to-read PDF file.

systems safety graph


How to Contribute to This Site

We need input from the Defense Acquisition community to address each of the ten Acquisition Safety challenges that are the subject of this website. Grow with us as we share information on how to meet the above challenges through the Defense Acquisition Process. Through the exchange of ideas, information resources, and improvements in methodology and design, these challenges can and will be met.

To submit general information or information on Best Practices, or to submit a success story, please send an email to with the subject line "Acquisition Safety."

Back to Top