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Topic Title: Why engineers need to *learn* to take risks
Topic Summary: The UK Infrastructure Risk Group reports on ways to save billions on the costs of major infrastructure projects
Created On: 09 November 2013 09:11 PM
Status: Read Only
Related E&T article: Why engineers need to learn to take risks
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 09 November 2013 09:11 PM
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philipoakley

Posts: 256
Joined: 13 December 2001

The E&T magazine http://eandt.theiet.org/magazi...3/10/if-you-ask-me.cfm article on risk management suggests that engineers need to learn risk management.

Surely its (commercial / business / programme) managers that need to stop attempting to game the system (as described in the article).

The hidden question is how to fund 'risk' in an open manner, rather than simply making it a (hidden) profit centre.

How to get past this human trait?

Philip

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philip oakley
 29 November 2013 12:38 PM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
Joined: 15 April 2013

in my world risk-taking is a no-no .

However, we are all likely to make mistakes; the trick is to benefit from the lessons that accrue?

Ken Green
 09 January 2014 03:45 PM
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christait

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In my world everything is a risk. I go out without a coat I risk getting rained on, ok I can live with that; my Nuclear reactor explodes due to a once in a thousand year weather event (of which there is a historical record), maybe I should have taken more precautions. Everything we do is a risk, and this is were professional ethics has to come into play, and how much risk is acceptable before a project becomes financially/morally unviable. I think informed risk assesment should be a cornerstone of what every businessman and engineer does.
 11 January 2014 12:42 PM
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kengreen

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I beg to disagree. A known risk is NEVER acceptable!

Ken Green
 11 January 2014 01:02 PM
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Zuiko

Posts: 521
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Ken,
That doesn't make sense?

I can't think of any activity in life that contains no risk.

You have to weigh the risk, and if the risk is acceptable then you continue.

If the risk is unnaceptable, then you stop and put in measures to reduce the risk to acceptable levels.

Sometimes, the risk cannot be reduced to acceptable levels and one has to accept significant risks - soldiers for example.

Or the risk may be small and a weighted decision to accept the risk has to be taken - in medicine and surgery for example.



W
 11 January 2014 04:56 PM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
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Sorry Zuiko,

But I can't agree. There cannot ever be a reason for accepting a risk.Make a new start ; if you cannot eliminate the risk then eliminate the cause of thet risk -i.e. because you made a bad decision to start then try for a different approach.

The recent Japanese accident was caused by an unknown risk and so could not reasonably have been avoided.
It now becomes necessary to redesign with precautions against an even bigger tsunami and further precautions to ensure that, should such a larger tsunami oc cur, it will not take out the cooling arrangement.

There are valuable lessons in every disaster.The size of suc h disaster is not a parameter!
Ken Green
 11 January 2014 05:09 PM
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Zuiko

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Ken,
Think about it:

You doctor tells you the risks of a medicine: you read about the side-effects and make a weighted judgments as to the risks.
Your surgeon tells you the risks of an operation. You make that choice. Risk having the operation vs risk not having the operation.

There is a quantifiable outcome based on prior experience. i.e. how many people die under the knife; or how many people will have an adverse reaction to a drug.

People drive cars, or get in aeroplanes. There is a known risk, and that risk is also quantifiable. All we can do is take measures to reduce that risk. It can never be zero. If an aeroplane was designed to be as risk-free as possible it would be so heavy it would never get off the ground (then of course, it would not be an aeroplane. The point is, therefore, it is impossible to elimate all risk).


Hell, there is even a risk to eating a peanut.

You cannot possibly go through life avoiding ALL risk - it is IMPOSSIBLE.

Every aspect of life contains a certain risk.

All that is possible is to behave as safely as possible. Then of course, you create the sterile environment that makes people chase risk (i.e. adventure sports, gambling, high-roller banking etc) because it is hard-wired in our brains, through evolution, to live with risk.
 11 January 2014 07:02 PM
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jarathoon

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It is all to easy to rise to the top of some large organisations (possibly including the BBC) by farming out risk management decisions to others (normally to lower level staff or contractors) and perhaps even to people in other countries where the occupational risks aren't managed at all.

Hazard Identification, Risk Assessment, "Permit to Work" systems etc., including an evaluation of what work can and cannot be carried out simultaneously in close proximity, is part of creating and maintaining a productive and safe working culture.

Even the HSE professionals say that risk must be managed, and can't be completely eliminated.


"Living with electrical risk - an inspector's perspective" Bill Bates

http://tv.theiet.org/technology/electronics/16765.cfm

However I would be stricter than HSE professionals are currently allowed to be and say managers should be liable for managing the safety of work they contract out to foreign countries, in just the same way as they are held responsible for the work they manage here.

In working in large companies I have seen graduate management trainees that are allowed to flit from one appointment to another, for one or two years at a time, without ever having to take a real-world decision that involves assessing and managing work related risks. If the people destined for the top are not used to managing and assessing risk right from the start, how are they expected to to do their job when they actually reach the top? Well they can't as our political leaders show us all too well.

I remember being at school (13 or 14 I think) and being trained to work with metal working and wood working lathes etc.

Is it wrong to train a young teenager in how to use a lathe, for unguarded machining operations, a few ten's of cm's away from a rapidly rotating piece of metal? Or indeed to cross the road and come within one or two metres of even larger hunks of metal with four wheels unguarded? Is it wrong to teach young people how to ski, when other people are skiing at the same time?

What happens to our country if schools take Ken's words to heart? Well I know what happens the country goes into long term stasis that's what.



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James Arathoon
 11 January 2014 09:06 PM
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ectophile

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Originally posted by: kengreen

I beg to disagree. A known risk is NEVER acceptable!



Ken Green


That really doesn't make sense. What do you do when doing nothing involves a risk?

Kuiko has presented an excellent example. A doctor offers you statin tablets to reduce your cholesterol levels. If you take them, you risk any of the many side effects listed on the patient leaflet. If you don't take them, you risk a stroke or heart attack.

All you can do is weigh up the risks, and do what you think best.

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S P Barker BSc PhD MIET
 11 January 2014 09:22 PM
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kengreen

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What a lot of words about the wrong argument. You will be telling me soon that it is dangerous to be born.

We are talking about ENGINEERS knowingly taking risks - and that has nothing to do with splitting words. Neither does it have anything to do with pedanticism!

If you truly cannot understand then I doubt your qualification to pronounce yourself "engineer".

Ken Green
 11 January 2014 09:35 PM
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Zuiko

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Originally posted by: kengreen

We are talking about ENGINEERS knowingly taking risks - and that has nothing to do with splitting words. Neither does it have anything to do with pedanticism!



If you truly cannot understand then I doubt your qualification to pronounce yourself "engineer".



Ken Green


you can doubt all you want, it makes no different that you are wrong.

Who designs and builds operating theatres and the sophisticated machinery inside them? Engineers.

Who designs and builds aeroplanes? Engineers.

Have all the risks been designed out of these machines?

When the aircraft rolls out of the hangar after its maintenance, is it risk free? Of course not, the risk has been reduced to a level that the aircraft carrier deems acceptable. If you have ever flown, you will have been a passenger on an aircraft with faitigue cracks of a length that are considered reasonable and acceptable by the carrier (military engineers have the habit of drilling a large round hole at the end of the crack to stop it spreading). The engineer knowingly takes a calculated risk that the aircraft is as safe as reasonably practicable, knowing it is not, and can never be, 100% safe.

Different carriers may have different ideas of what is considered safe and have different maintenance and inspection regimes (and so might a passenger: I'd rather fly BA or Qantas than Cubana or Garuda!)


Is it possible for engineers to design ALL the risks out of these machines? NO

Is it reasonable to accept some risk when using these machines? YES.


No engineering system is 100% safe from known risk. That is a physical impossibility. All that can be acheived is to make the system as safe as possible within the bounds of practicality, enginering knowledge and cost.

Edited: 11 January 2014 at 09:46 PM by Zuiko
 11 January 2014 09:49 PM
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Zuiko

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Originally posted by: ectophile

That really doesn't make sense. What do you do when doing nothing involves a risk?


That is an excellent point.

A tragic - and heroic - example is the Chernobyl divers.
 11 January 2014 11:26 PM
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ectophile

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Originally posted by: kengreen

What a lot of words about the wrong argument. You will be telling me soon that it is dangerous to be born.



We are talking about ENGINEERS knowingly taking risks - and that has nothing to do with splitting words. Neither does it have anything to do with pedanticism!



If you truly cannot understand then I doubt your qualification to pronounce yourself "engineer".



Ken Green


I can only assume that what you mean when you say "risk" is not what I think it means.

I work for a large multi-national company. We carry out risk reviews for new projects. At those reviews, we try to estimate how likely each risky event is, and how serious it would be. We try to work out how to minimise the risk, and how we could mitigate the effects if the event happened. We'd never be arrogant enough to think that we could completely eliminate all the risks from a project.

These risks may not be risks to life. Often, it's profit or reputation that would suffer if we get it wrong.

But if we want to carry on earning a living, all we can do is minimise the risks, allow contingencies, and put in bids that we think are lower than our competitors'. If we're any good, we get it right most of the time.

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S P Barker BSc PhD MIET
 12 January 2014 06:09 PM
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kengreen

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Oh dear,

We continue to argue at cross purposes - I suspect because I tread on toes?

To me a risk is a known possibility which we hope will not occur? Allow me to re-state my case - in my world HOPE is not acceptable.

Now ... ... Can we hake hands ?

Ken Green
 12 January 2014 06:34 PM
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Zuiko

Posts: 521
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C'mon Ken, that's a ridiculous defintion and you know it! (and a bit of a backtrack by yourself by introducing the word "hope"
 12 January 2014 09:48 PM
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kengreen

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Zuiko,

Are claiming them that "risk assessment" is not a prayer of hope? If it qualifies as an assessment then the assessor cannot exist who doesn't keep his fingers crossed to ward off that little imponderable.
 13 January 2014 05:16 PM
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jarathoon

Posts: 1041
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My assessment is that there is currently no hope (or risk) of Ken winning this particular argument unless he does pray for divine intervention and receives it.

I am not sure divine intervention has been properly risk assessed in this context. It might involve the sudden failure of every consistent system of logic ever invented and failure of every computer on the planet. The probability of this outcome is small, but the consequences so incalculably large they are almost unimaginable.


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James Arathoon
 14 January 2014 04:18 PM
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kengreen

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i do not believe in divine intervetion. Are there not enough idiots in this world without the need to introduce an excuse for sloppy engineering?

Whoever brought in this subject surely either suffersan uneasy mind or went to America to learn English ?

Ken Green
 14 January 2014 04:18 PM
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kengreen

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i do not believe in divine intervetion. Are there not enough idiots in this world without the need to introduce an excuse for sloppy engineering?

Whoever brought in this subject surely either suffersan uneasy mind or went to America to learn English ?

Ken Green
 14 January 2014 05:26 PM
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jarathoon

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Originally posted by: kengreen

i do not believe in divine intervetion. Are there not enough idiots in this world without the need to introduce an excuse for sloppy engineering?

Ken Green


Perhaps I should have used the term, "Act of God"; it is the proper legal term for events outside of human control. It is perfectly right and proper to make due consideration for the likelihood and consequence of "Act of God" type events in a risk assessment.




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James Arathoon
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