Archives For Risk

What is risk, how dow we categorise it and deal with it.

4blackswans

Or how do we measure the unknown?

The problem is that as our understanding and control of known risks increases, the remaining risk in any system become increasingly dominated by  the ‘unknown‘. The more we demand in integrity for high integrity systems the more we end up in the situation of having to deal with residual risks that are unknown and unknowable. Well at least the day before the accident they are. What we really need is a way to measure, express and reason about deep uncertainty, and by that I don’t mean tools like Pascalian calculus or Bayesian prior belief structures, but a way to measure and judge ontological uncertainty.

Even if we can’t measure ontological uncertainty directly perhaps there are indirect measures? Perhaps we can infer something from the platonic shadows it casts on the wall, so to speak. Nassim Taleb would certainly say no, the unknowability of such events is the central thesis of his Ludic Fallacy after all. But I still think it’s worthwhile thinking about, because while he might be right, he may also be wrong.

*With apologies to Nassim Taleb.

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Well if news from the G20 is anything to go by we may be on the verge of a seismic shift in how the challenge of climate change is treated. Our Prime Ministers denial notwithstanding :)

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A report issued by the US Chemical Safety Board on Monday entitled “Regulatory Report: Chevron Richmond Refinery Pipe Rupture and Fire,” calls on California to make changes to the way it manages process safety.

The report is worth a read as it looks at various regulatory regimes in a fairly balanced fashion. A strong independent competent regulator is seen as a key factor for success by the reports authors, regardless of the regulatory mechanisms. I don’t however think the evidence is as strong as the report makes out that safety case/goal based safety regimes perform ‘all that better’ than other regulatory regimes. Would have also been nice if they’d compared and contrasted against other industries, like aviation.

Well it was either Crowley or Kylie Minogue given the title of the post, so think yourselves lucky (Image source: Warner Brothers TV)

Sometimes it’s just a choice between bad and worse

If we accept that different types of uncertainty create different types of risk then it follows that we may in fact be able to trade one type of risk for another, and in certain circumstances this may be a preferable option.

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Midlands hotel

A quick report from sunny Manchester, where I’m attending the IET’s annual combined conference on system safety and cyber security. Day one of the conference proper and I got to be lead off with the first keynote. I was thinking about getting everyone to do some Tai Chii to limber up (maybe next year). Thanks once again to Dr Carl Sandom for inviting me over, it was a pleasure. I just hope the audience felt the same way. :)

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Interesting article on old school rail safety and lessons for the modern nuclear industry. As a somewhat ironic addendum the early nuclear industry safety studies also overlooked the risks posed by large inventories of fuel rods on site, the then assumption being that they’d be shipped off to a reprocessing facility as soon as possible, it’s hard to predict the future. :)

And in news just to hand, the first Ebola case is reported in the US. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens next, and how much transmission rate is driven by cultural and socio-economic effects…