It is interesting to compare the approach to risk taken by two federal agencies: PHMSA (the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). The former is responsible for the safety of pipelines and the latter for the safety of commercial aviation.
In its 2012 mission statement, PHMSA said its goals for 2016 were to:
- Reduce the number of pipeline incidents involving death or major injury to between 26-37 [incidents] per year.
- Reduce the number of hazardous liquid pipeline spills with environmental consequences to between 65-81 per year.
In its mission statement, the FAA lists its goals this way:
- No accident-related fatalities occur on commercial service aircraft in the U.S.
- We will take action to manage risk by proactively identifying hazards and risk based on continuous analysis of data.
Think about that.
What if the FAA had a goal of limiting incidents “involving death or major injury to between 26-37 incidents per year”? Would we tolerate that? Would we still fly? At least we would have the option of taking other forms of transportation, or simply staying home.
On the other hand, what if PHMSA had a goal of “no accident-related pipeline fatalities in the US”? At the very least, they would never allow the construction and operation of a pipeline like the Dragonpipe (Mariner East 2 pipeline) in a densely-populated area.
The bottom line: the FAA doesn’t want us to die; but PHMSA doesn’t mind, as long as we die in limited numbers.