Margin of Safety


Many government agencies and industries (such as aerospace) require the use of a margin of safety (MoS or M.S.) to describe the ratio of the strength of the structure to the requirements. There are two separate definitions for the margin of safety so care is needed to determine which is being used for a given application. One usage of M.S. is as a measure of capability like FoS. The other usage of M.S. is as a measure of satisfying design requirements (requirement verification). Margin of safety can be conceptualized (along with the reserve factor explained below) to represent how much of the structure’s total capability is held “in reserve” during loading.

M.S. as a measure of structural capability: This definition of margin of safety commonly seen in textbooks describes what additional load beyond the design load a part can withstand before failing. In effect, this is a measure of excess capability. If the margin is 0, the part will not take any additional load before it fails, if it is negative the part will fail before reaching its design load in service. If the margin is 1, it can withstand one additional load of equal force to the maximum load it was designed to support (i.e. twice the design load).

calc: Margin of Safety formula
Design Factor

M.S. as a measure of requirement verification: Many agencies and organizations such as NASA and AIAA define the margin of safety including the design factor, in other words, the margin of safety is calculated after applying the design factor. In the case of a margin of 0, the part is at exactly the required strength (the safety factor would equal the design factor). If there is a part with a required design factor of 3 and a margin of 1, the part would have a safety factor of 6 (capable of supporting two loads equal to its design factor of 3, supporting six times the design load before failure). A margin of 0 would mean the part would pass with a safety factor of 3. If the margin is less than 0 in this definition, although the part will not necessarily fail, the design requirement has not been met. A convenience of this usage is that for all applications, a margin of 0 or higher is passing, one does not need to know application details or compare against requirements, just glancing at the margin calculation tells whether the design passes or not. This is helpful for oversight and reviewing on projects with various integrated components, as different components may have various design factors involved and the margin calculation helps prevent confusion.

Proper Margin of Safety

For a successful design, the realized safety factor must always equal or exceed the design safety factor so that the margin of safety is greater than or equal to zero. The margin of safety is sometimes, but infrequently, used as a percentage, i.e., a 0.50 M.S is equivalent to a 50% M.S. When a design satisfies this test it is said to have a “positive margin”, and, conversely, a “negative margin” when it does not.

Materials for this article were gathered from various public sources or written by editors.
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