The problem of accounting for epistemic uncertainty in risk management decisions is conceptually straightforward, but is riddled with practical difficulties. Simple approximations are often used whereby future variations in epistemic uncertainty are ignored or worst-case scenarios are postulated. These strategies tend to produce sub-optimal decisions. We develop a general framework based on Bayesian decision theory and exemplify it for the case of seismic design of buildings. When temporal fluctuations of the epistemic uncertainties and regulatory safety constraints are included, the optimal level of seismic protection exceeds the normative level at the time of construction. Optimal Bayesian decisions do not depend on the aleatory or epistemic nature of the uncertainties, but only on the total (epistemic plus aleatory) uncertainty and how that total uncertainty varies randomly during the lifetime of the project. ?? 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.