Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies / Edition 1

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Overview

Normal Accidents analyzes the social side of technological risk. Charles Perrow argues that the conventional engineering approach to ensuring safety--building in more warnings and safeguards--fails because systems complexity makes failures inevitable. He asserts that typical precautions, by adding to complexity, may help create new categories of accidents. (At Chernobyl, tests of a new safety system helped produce the meltdown and subsequent fire.) By recognizing two dimensions of risk--complex versus linear interactions, and tight versus loose coupling--this book provides a powerful framework for analyzing risks and the organizations that insist we run them.

The first edition fulfilled one reviewer's prediction that it "may mark the beginning of accident research." In the new afterword to this edition Perrow reviews the extensive work on the major accidents of the last fifteen years, including Bhopal, Chernobyl, and the Challenger disaster. The new postscript probes what the author considers to be the "quintessential 'Normal Accident'" of our time: the Y2K computer problem.

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Editorial Reviews

Technology Review
[Perrow's] research undermines promises that 'better management' and 'more operator training' can eliminate catastrophic accidents. In doing so, he challenges us to ponder what could happen to justice, community, liberty, and hope in a society where such events are normal.
— Deborah A. Stone
The New York Times
[Normal Accidents is] a penetrating study of catastrophes and near catastrophes in several high-risk industries. Mr. Perrow ... writes lucidly and makes it clear that 'normal' accidents are the inevitable consequences of the way we launch industrial ventures.... An outstanding analysis of organizational complexity.
— John Pfeiffer
Nature
Normal Accidents is a testament to the value of rigorous thinking when applied to a critical problem.
— Nick Pidgeon
The New York Times - John Pfeiffer
[Normal Accidents is] a penetrating study of catastrophes and near catastrophes in several high-risk industries. Mr. Perrow ... writes lucidly and makes it clear that 'normal' accidents are the inevitable consequences of the way we launch industrial ventures.... An outstanding analysis of organizational complexity.
Technology Review - Deborah A. Stone
[Perrow's] research undermines promises that 'better management' and 'more operator training' can eliminate catastrophic accidents. In doing so, he challenges us to ponder what could happen to justice, community, liberty, and hope in a society where such events are normal.
Nature - Nick Pidgeon
Normal Accidents is a testament to the value of rigorous thinking when applied to a critical problem.
From the Publisher

"[Normal Accidents is] a penetrating study of catastrophes and near catastrophes in several high-risk industries. Mr. Perrow ... writes lucidly and makes it clear that 'normal' accidents are the inevitable consequences of the way we launch industrial ventures.... An outstanding analysis of organizational complexity."--John Pfeiffer, The New York Times

"[Perrow's] research undermines promises that 'better management' and 'more operator training' can eliminate catastrophic accidents. In doing so, he challenges us to ponder what could happen to justice, community, liberty, and hope in a society where such events are normal."--Deborah A. Stone, Technology Review

"Normal Accidents is a testament to the value of rigorous thinking when applied to a critical problem."--Nick Pidgeon, Nature

The New York Times
[Normal Accidents is] a penetrating study of catastrophes and near catastrophes in several high-risk industries. Mr. Perrow ... writes lucidly and makes it clear that 'normal' accidents are the inevitable consequences of the way we launch industrial ventures.... An outstanding analysis of organizational complexity.
— John Pfeiffer
Lawrence Zuckerman
Mr. Perrow found that the organizations designed to run and safeguard modern technology were so complex and so tightly integrated that accidents are inevitable, or ''normal,'' even when all the proper safety procedures are followed. Thus, disasters like the near-meltdown of the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger cannot be traced to discrete errors or blamed solely on ''operator error,'' as has been the typical approach in the past. They are the natural result of the systems themselves. They are accidents that are inconceivable -- until they happen.
New York Times
Wade Roush
On the other hand, we may have simply postponed the kind of debacle that would force us into a reexamination of complex, hazardous technologies such as nuclear power. In particular, the increasing ubiquity of the Internet, to which every thermostat and sprinkler system in the world may soon be linked, is creating the potential for an epidemic of computer viruses or other disruptions on an unprecedented scale. There will never be another year 2000, but I suspect this won't be the last edition of Normal Accidents.
Technology Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691004129
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 9/27/1999
  • Edition description: UPDATED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 386
  • Sales rank: 476,320
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Table of Contents


Abnormal Blessings vii
Introduction 3
1. Normal Accident at Three Mile Island 15
2. Nuclear Power as a High-Risk System: Why We Have Not Had More TMIs--But Will Soon 32
3. Complexity, Coupling, and Catastrophe 62
4. Petrochemical Plants 101
5. Aircraft and Airways 123
6. Marine Accidents 170
7. Earthbound Systems: Dams, Quakes, Mines, and Lakes 232
8. Exotics: Space, Weapons, and DNA 256
9. Living with High-Risk Systems 304
Afterword 353
Postscript: The Y2K Problem 388
List of Acronyms 413
Notes 415
Bibliography 426
Index 441
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