Re: [SystemSafety] NYTimes: The Next Accident Awaits

From: Nancy Leveson < >
Date: Thu, 30 Jan 2014 14:58:54 -0500

It would be nice to actually introduce some data into the discussions on this list. First, although it is very true that the U.K. has excellent comparative occupational safety statistics, this exceptional performance predated safety cases by at least 100 years and is as much a cultural artifact of the U.K. as any current practices. While the rest of the world was suffering the results of steam engine explosions in the late 1800s, for example, Great Britain was the first to implement measures to reduce them. (I wrote a paper on this once if anyone is interested.) Although the British citizens on this list know more about the history of the UK HSE, I believe they were the first country to require companies to have safety policies, etc., after the Flixborough explosion. Safety cases, I believe, came into being only after the more recent Piper Alpha explosion.

Trying to tie accident rates in different countries to particular ways of regulating safety is dicey at best. First, there are significant differences between the engineering, agricultural, industry, and service rates of accidents in countries, often related to technical differences. Some have high agricultural accident rates but low service accident rates. For example, accident rates are going to be very different in a country with high tech agricultural techniques compared to those still plowing fields with a pair of oxen. Politics plays an even more important role. For example, western countries often put very dangerous processes and plants in third world countries or governments in these countries do not have laws that require manufacturers to use even minimal safety practices in manufacturing, for example, and they will not as long as they need the revenue and jobs. The safety culture in these countries will not change magically by using one type of regulatory regime.

Note also, that there are vast differences in industries. Those with the very safest records, such as the U.S. SUBSAFE program, do not use safety cases. (And they have managed to have an incredible safety record despite being in the U.S. :-)). If we want to compare the effectiveness of different regulatory regimes, then we need to provide scientific evaluations and not just misuse statistics (which may involve factors that have nothing to do with the actual regulatory regime used).

Also, as Michael Holloway noted, culture differences will make different types of regulation more or less different in different countries and industries.

Finally, I would like to point out to those who are making some national comparisons and putting down the U.S. in comparison with France, for example, that the fatal occupational accident rate in the U.S. is less than that of France. Perhaps we can avoid mixing politics and chauvinism with science on this list.


On Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 8:50 AM, Martyn Thomas < martyn_at_xxxxxx

> I'm a non-exec Director at the UK's Health and Safety Laboratory (
> We carry out the basic research that underpins the UK's
> regulation of occupational health and safety, ranging from reducing
> accidents on construction sites and improving the tethering of loads on
> lorries, through to reproducing and analysing major explosions (such as
> Buncefield - and
> destruction-testing the physical integrity of tankers and rolling-stock.
> We also undertake commercial work that uses our unusual experimental and
> analysis capabilities and very strong science base.
> The UK is unusual in having a goal-based, safety-case regulatory regime
> and a regulator (HSE) with its own expert research establishment (HSL). We
> are getting an increasing number of approaches from Governments in the Far
> and Middle East who see the UK's good performance in occupational Health
> and Safety and who want to investigate setting up similar goal-based
> regulation.
> Maybe there is something in the HSE/HSL approach that the US chemical
> industry could benefit from.
> Regards
> Martyn
> Martyn Thomas CBE FREng
> On 29/01/2014 22:05, Peter Bernard Ladkin wrote:
> A worthy opinion piece from the Chair of the US Chemical Safety Board. Note his suggestion that identifying hazards and mitigation is just well-established best practice. I can say from experience that it is not yet in Europe in all industries with safety aspects, even though he holds Europe up as having a factor of three fewer chemical accidents as the US.
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Prof. Nancy Leveson
Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems
MIT, Room 33-334
77 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02142

Telephone: 617-258-0505
Email: leveson_at_xxxxxx

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Received on Thu Jan 30 2014 - 20:59:05 CET

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