Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies

Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies

by Charles Perrow
     
 

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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

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.

Editorial Reviews

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
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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400828494
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
10/12/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
464
File size:
4 MB

Meet the Author

Charles Perrow is Professor of Sociology at Yale University. His other books include "The Radical Attack on Business, Organizational Analysis: A Sociological View, Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay," and "The AIDS Disaster: The Failure of Organizations in New York and the Nation."

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