Archives For Risk

Monument to the conquerors of space Moscow (Copyright)

Engineers as the agents of evolution

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The igloo of uncertainty (Image source: UNEP 2010)

Ethics, uncertainty and decision making

The name of the model made me smile, but this article The Ethics of Uncertainty by TannertElvers and Jandrig argues that where uncertainty exists research should be considered as part of an ethical approach to managing risk.

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From Les Hatton, here’s how, in four easy steps:

  1. Insist on using R = F x C in your assessment. This will panic HR (People go into HR to avoid nasty things like multiplication.)
  2. Put “end of universe” as risk number 1 (Rationale: R = F x C. Since the end of the universe has an infinite consequence C, then no matter how small the frequency F, the Risk is also infinite)
  3. Ignore all other risks as insignificant
  4. Wait for call from HR…

A humorous note, amongst many, in an excellent presentation on the fell effect that bureaucracies can have upon the development of safety critical systems. I would add my own small corollary that when you see warning notes on microwaves and hot water services the risk assessment lunatics have taken over the asylum…

In June of 2011 the Australian Safety Critical Systems Association (ASCSA) published a short discussion paper on what they believed to be the philosophical principles necessary to successfully guide the development of a safety critical system. The paper identified eight management and eight technical principles, but do these principles do justice to the purported purpose of the paper?

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I’ve recently been reading John Downer on what he terms the Myth of Mechanical Objectivity. To summarise John’s argument he points out that once the risk of an extreme event has been ‘formally’ assessed as being so low as to be acceptable it becomes very hard for society and it’s institutions to justify preparing for it (Downer 2011).

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Why something as simple as control stick design can break an aircrew’s situational awareness

One of the less often considered aspects of situational awareness in the cockpit is the element of knowing what the ‘guy in the other seat is doing’. This is a particularly important part of cockpit error management because without a shared understanding of what someone is doing it’s kind of difficult to detect errors.

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Fukushima NPP March 17 (Image Source: )

There are few purely technical problems…

The Washington Post has discovered that concerns about the vulnerability of the Daiichi Fukushima plant to potential Tsunami events were brushed aside at a review of nuclear plant safety conducted in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake. Yet at other plants the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (NISA) had directed the panel of engineers and geologists to consider tsunami events.

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Why we may be carrying an order of magnitude greater risk from aircraft engine rotor bursts than we thought

One of the ‘implicit’ conclusions of the 2010 AIA study on the threat posed by jet engine rotor bursts was that the fleet of modern aircraft designed to meet FAA circular AC 20-128A also met the FAA established safety targets of a 1 in 20 likelihood of a catastrophic loss, in the event of a engine rotor burst.

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As the latin root of the word risk indicates an integral part of risk taking is the benefit we achieve. However often times decision makers do not have a clear understanding of what is the upside or payoff.

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One of the current concepts in decision making theory is that of bounded rationality. In essence we (humans) try to act rationally but are constrained by the limits of time and information on our decisions. So if we make decisions in this way what are some useful, ‘tools of the trade’ that can guide our decision making?

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To Dare…

04/11/2010 — Leave a comment

What is the root meaning of risk? The word risk derives from an early Italian word ‘risicare’, which means ‘to dare’. In this sense risk is a choice rather than a fate and with that authority of choice goes (in a just society) some measure or responsibility and accountability.

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The Titanic effect

27/09/2010 — 1 Comment

So why did the Titanic sink? The reason highlights the role of implicit design assumptions in complex accidents and the interaction of design with operations of safety critical systems

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So why is one in a million an acceptable risk? The answer may be simpler than we think.

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So, a year on from the Black Saturday fires and the royal commission established in their aftermath is working it’s way to a conclusion. While the commission has certainly been busy, I guess you could say that I was left unsatisfied by the recommendations.

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The Newcastle 2007 storm

In the first part of this post on Drew Warne Smith and James Madden’s article on climate change, The science is in on sea-level rise: 1.7 mm, I dealt with the factual basis of their argument.

The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.

George Bernard Shaw

In this second part I want to spend some time looking at both the logical and psychological tricks of their argument (such as it is) and how the authors use these fallacious elements to sway the unwary or uneducated readership.

Note that I have based the taxonomy of argument upon that proposed by Thoulesss (1934) (1).

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If you read through the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports you’ll strike qualitative phrases such as’likely’ and ‘high confidence’ to describe uncertainty. But is there a credible basis for these terms?

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Risk - what is it?

What do an eighteenth century mathematician a twentieth century US Secretary of Defence have in common?

The answer is that both men thought about uncertainty and risk, and the definitions of risk and uncertainty that they separately arrived at neatly illustrate that there is a little more to the concept of risk than just likelihood multiplied by consequence. Continue Reading…

Fire has been an integral part of the Australian ecosystem for tens of thousands of years. Both the landscape and it’s native inhabitants have adapted to this periodic cycle of fire and regeneration. These fires are not bolts from the blue, they occur regularly and predictably, yet modern Australians seem to have difficulty understanding that their land will burn, regularly, and sometimes catastrophically.

So why do we studiously avoid serious consideration of the hazards of living in a country that regularly produces firestorms? Why, in the time of fire, do we go through the same cycle of shock, recrimination, exhortations to do better, diminishing interest and finally forgetfulness?

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