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Linking safety factor to probability of failure


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Author S M Gover


Estimating the probability of failure for embankments is not intuitive. It requires not only an appreciation of the strength of the embankment, but an understanding of the variability and uncertainty in the strength parameters as well. These additional aspects are, in themselves, relatively new to most practicing engineers, and therefore require some discussion.

This paper discusses the concepts of probability and uncertainty, and presents a reliability-based numerical experiment, together with a literary study and collation of some of the author’s historical slope stability analyses, to investigate whether a direct relationship between safety factors and probabilities of failure exists for certain levels of uncertainty in strength parameters. In doing so, a useful tool is presented whereby knowing the safety factor of a simple slope or embankment with a consistent level of uncertainty, one can infer an approximate probability of failure.


Gover, S M, 2018. Linking safety factor to probability of failure, in Proceedings Mine Waste and Tailings Stewardship Conference 2018, pp 384–396 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).