Archives For Risk Perception
I’ve just finished up the working week with a day long Safety Conversations and Observations course conducted by Dr Robert Long of Human Dymensions. A good, actually very good, course with an excellent balance between the theory of risk psychology and the practicalities of successfully carrying out safety conversations. I’d recommend it to any organisation that’s seeking to take their safety culture beyond systems and paperwork. Although he’s not a great fan of engineers.
The following is an extract from Kevin Driscoll’s Murphy Was an Optimist presentation at SAFECOMP 2010. Here Kevin does the maths to show how a lack of exposure to failures over a small sample size of operating hours leads to a normalcy bias amongst designers and a rejection of proposed failure modes as ‘not credible’.
The reason I find it of especial interest is that it gives, at least in part, an empirical argument to why designers find it difficult to anticipate the system accidents of Charles Perrow’s Normal Accident Theory.
Kevin’s argument also supports John Downer’s (2010) concept of Epistemic accidents. John defines epistemic accidents as those that occur because of an erroneous technological assumption, even though there were good reasons to hold that assumption before the accident.
Kevin’s argument illustrates that engineers as technological actors must make decisions in which their knowledge is inherently limited and so their design choices will exhibit bounded rationality.
In effect the higher the dependability of a system the greater the mismatch between designer experience and system operational hours and therefore the tighter the bounds on the rationality of design choices and their underpinning assumptions. The tighter the bounds the greater the effect of congnitive biases will have, e.g. such as falling prey to the Normalcy Bias.
Of course there are other reasons for such bounded rationality, see Logic, Mathematics and Science are Not Enough for a discussion of these.
An interesting theory of risk perception and communication is put forward by Kahan (2012) in the context of climate risk.