Linking safety factor to probability of failure

Stability of tailings dams and tailings run-out

Scott Gover

Golder Associates Africa (Pty) Ltd

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 uncertainty and safety factor, one can infer an approximate probability of failure.

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