Growing into Uncertainty

This is the first episode of “Two Cents Worth of Safety”, which will interleave with the regular DisasterCast episodes. In this installment Ron explains how looking backward we see a whole lot more change in our lives than looking forward, and describes his own changing understanding of safety.

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Episode 49 – Aberfan

This is an episode about large piles falling over. We start with the physics of sandcastles, and move quickly to the coal tip at Aberfan. This leads further to discussing hindsight explanations for accidents. The episode also includes a brief review of John Templer’s “The Staircase”.

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Episode 48 – Metro North Railroad

The NTSB has released a report examining common organisational factors in five accidents on Metro North Railroad in and around New York. Do five accidents in a short space of time indicate an unusual safety problem? Are there useful lessons to be learned beyond examining each accident in isolation?

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Episode 47 – Apollo 1

After a brief hiatus, DisasterCast returns with Episode 47. In this episode we ask what it means for something to cause something else, and explain why the answer is not as simple as it sounds. We then apply this to the Apollo 1 fire.

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Episode 46 – Term Around Again

This episode returns to the language of safety. As an illustration the 2013 incident involving a lithium-ion battery fire on a Boeing 787-8 is discussed.

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Episode 45 – Mann Gulch

Episode 45 of DisasterCast tries something a little different. This episode has three different stories of exactly the same accident – the deaths of 13 firefighters in the Rocky Mountains.

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Episode 43 – Explosive Mixtures

In this episode I discuss some of the people who’ve helped shape my own thinking on safety research. The second part of the episode is all about mixing things together to create explosions. There is a hydrogen/oxygen explosion, a water/molten iron detonation, and an AZDL / Persulphate blast.

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Episode 42 – Lightning Strikes

This episode covers an Iranian military transported downed by lightning, the Milford Haven Texaco Refinery explosion, and the dangers of blasphemy on a golf course. Lightning alone is seldom enough to cause a major disaster, but it creates a system disturbance putting resilience to the test. This episode also asks why there are so many different names for safety practitioners, and yet again plugs the Graduate Certificate in Safety Leadership from Griffith University.

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Episode 41 – West Gate Bridge

One of the weird things about safety is that we spend so much effort on safety analysis during design, despite the fact that almost all accidents happen after design is completed. One explanation is that addressing problems by building safety into the design is inherently more effective. A more cynical thought might be that we think of building things as “real” engineering, but looking after them afterwards as a lesser job. In any case it’s a genuine problem that for most systems, there’s disproportionate effort put into making them safe at the point of commissioning given where the risks are coming from through the life of the system. The major exceptions are big structural projects – skyscrapers, dams, tunnels and bridges. These are most dangerous whilst they are still being built. Here the problem can sometimes go in the reverse direction. We put a lot of attention into making sure the finished design is safe, but sometimes forget about the intermediate steps. A bridge, tunnel or building that is structurally sound when complete can still be quite dangerous to build.

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