School of Property, Construction & Project Management
What will cause the next “nightmare” failure? How can operators prevent these rare events?
These are the questions that were discussed during the workshop, Management of Rare Events—How Can We Contribute?, which took place at the ROSEN Technology and Research Center (RTRC) in Lingen on 12 July 2016, presented and facilitated by Associate Professor Jan Hayes.
THE SOCIAL ASPECT OF TECHNICAL FAILURE
During her tour of research colleges in several European countries, Jan—a research leader at the Energy Pipelines Cooperative Research Centre (EPCRC) in Australia—took the time to visit ROSEN, a member company of the EPCRC. At the RTRC in Lingen, Germany, Jan presented her theory about the role of sociological factors in rare events to a group of interested ROSEN engineers, data analysts, and developers. Her theory is that unexpected disastrous incidents—so-called black swans—are rarely due to mere technical failure. Instead, she argues, they can almost always be attributed to social and organizational circumstances. Post-incident investigation often reveals not a lack of technical knowledge, but failure to adequately apply the knowledge that already exists, be it inadvertently, in good faith, or deliberately. This condition cannot be remedied by additional training or more sophisticated technology. Instead, measures must be taken that address organizational and social factors, such as common procedures, strategic priorities, values and attitudes.
DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES FOR VISIONARY SOLUTIONS
The goal of the workshop was to trigger an out-of-the-box style of thinking to enable ROSEN to support customers in the prevention or, when necessary, the management of rare events. Traditionally, inspection programs have been primarily technology-driven, so Jan’s talk introduced many new—and often surprising—ideas as to where the industry suffers from the greatest gaps regarding effective integrity management. “Behaviour is related to circumstances; individuals are in a context,” was an important message that the ROSEN experts took away from the sessions. It inspired various constructive ideas during the following discussion, in which the participants identified what a new proactive service could look like. Applying the black swan theory to ROSEN’s integrity services would mean moving from risk assessment based solely on material properties to risk assessment that also takes organizational structures and processes into account. The workshop was an important first step for ROSEN towards the adoption of a more holistic approach in the development of organizational safety and disaster prevention services.
Jan Hayes has thirty years’ experience in safety and risk management. Having been a director and part owner of one of Australia’s best known industrial risk and safety consultancies for thirteen years, she is now an Associate Professor in the Centre for Construction Work Health and Safety Research and the Centre for Integrated Project Solutions at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and a research leader at the EPCRC. Her research addresses specifically the organizational causes of accidents and the implications for accident prevention. Her particular interests include operational decision-making, safety in design, professionalism, effective regulation, and the use of standards. Jan’s numerous publications, including Nightmare Pipeline Failures: Fantasy planning, black swans and integrity management, have earned her much attention in both the academic and industrial fields, and she is an acclaimed speaker at international events, such as the Joint Technical Meeting and the International Pipeline Conference.
This article was previously published at: