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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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 14 January 2014 06:37 PM
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Zuiko

Posts: 521
Joined: 14 September 2010

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


Ken, if you can invent, say, an aircraft jet engine that will work 100% of the time, with no risk, then you will really be on to something.

Of course, you can not do that. Nobody can.

It does not make it sloppy engineering.

It is realistic engineering.

You make the best, safest engine you can within the limits of cost and practicality. You then make a proper assessment of the risk of using this engine: people want to fly, you have an engine that can get them there with a quantifiable degree of risk. Some people do not take that risk and remain on the ground.


There has been a recent release of data from Heathrow that shows that, on average, every four months a plane lands with an engine out. There has been one mayday distress call in the past twelve months (empty fuel). People still fly.
 15 January 2014 02:20 AM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
Joined: 15 April 2013

Zuiko.

By all means make of it what you will!

I as I started by saying - in answer to the original post - I don't accept the taking of risks.

I don't accept the idea of "the arrow of time" either - make a mistake and you must live with it for the remainder of your time.

Ken
 15 January 2014 08:25 AM
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ectophile

Posts: 546
Joined: 17 September 2001

Originally posted by: kengreen

Zuiko.



By all means make of it what you will!



I as I started by saying - in answer to the original post - I don't accept the taking of risks.



I don't accept the idea of "the arrow of time" either - make a mistake and you must live with it for the remainder of your time.



Ken


You can accept it or not, but across industry engineers are taking risks every day. The good ones know they are doing it.

-------------------------
S P Barker BSc PhD MIET
 15 January 2014 04:03 PM
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jarathoon

Posts: 1041
Joined: 05 September 2004

Originally posted by: kengreen

I don't accept the idea of "the arrow of time" either - make a mistake and you must live with it for the remainder of your time.



The "arrow of time" is related to the increase of entropy in systems where the first and second law of "equilibrium" thermodynamics apply.

All physical processes without an "arrow of time" are reversible, therefore what you say above is nonsensical.

The trouble is we don't live in a world that moves from one equilibrium state to another, as described by the theory of classical thermodynamics. We live in a world where the energy input from the sun keeps us away from classical thermodynamic state of equilibrium. We experience a sort of non-linear "dynamic" equilibrium rather than a linear "static" equilibrium; new dynamic states of equilibrium can emerge and be strengthened, as old ones fade away.

It is impossible to explain the funbdamental creativity of life without observing that as some avenues begin to fail, others start to succeed. Without failure forcing us to think again, we have no creativity and we have no progress. (The contemplation of failure, in the realm of the imagination, can also force us to think again, so I include that in the word failure above).

What we want to do is keep the risks associated with the booms and busts (the perceived failures and the perceived successes of our generation) within reasonable bounds, so that the dynamic oscillations in our non-linear world don't lead to common mode failures and the sudden collapse of a whole society or civilisation at some future time.

It appears if we allow no risk taking (or no views different from the norm) we have stasis leading to the fossilisation of society. The danger that brings is that it provokes the need for one big revolution to "fix things" and as with every other task we undertake these can fail at the first attempt; sometimes leading to a common mode failure for a whole society as can be seen happening in Syria right now, and in French Revolution during the period described as "the terror". It is far better to allow a continual stream of micro-revolutions, as happens by default in the UK, with our slowly evolving constitutional system.

Even though as a control systems engineer I am not clever enough to analyse the stability problem in regard to complex non-linear systems it does appear that things like risk, freedom of choice, flexibility, diversity and plurality do play an important role.



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James Arathoon
 15 January 2014 05:16 PM
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Zuiko

Posts: 521
Joined: 14 September 2010

Originally posted by: kengreen
I as I started by saying - in answer to the original post - I don't accept the taking of risks.


Ken - not all risks are equal!
 15 January 2014 06:34 PM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
Joined: 15 April 2013

Words ... words ... words !

How about a little honest self-criticism?

Ken
 15 January 2014 07:33 PM
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Zuiko

Posts: 521
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Honest self-criticism?

At work, I do everything I can to ensure that the risks are eliminated, or if they cannot be eliminated, that they are minimized.

But risks ALWAYS remain.


Might I suggest that if you will never accept that risks exist, that is because you have never undertaken any safety-critical engineering?
 16 January 2014 01:57 AM
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kengreen

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James,

An act of god is NOT a risk but an imponderable.

Some respect for the English(en) language.

Ken
 16 January 2014 04:03 AM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
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James,

An act of God is NOT a risk but is an imponderable?

Let's pay some respect to our own language.

Ken
 16 January 2014 04:11 AM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
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James,

An act of God is NOT a risk but is an imponderable?

Let's pay some respect to our own language.

Ken
 16 January 2014 04:12 AM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
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James,

An act of God is NOT a risk but is an imponderable?

Let's pay some respect to our own language.

Ken
 16 January 2014 04:21 AM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
Joined: 15 April 2013

James,

An act of God is NOT a risk but is an imponderable?

Let's pay some respect to our own language.

Ken
 16 January 2014 04:23 AM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
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James,

An act of God is NOT a risk. It is an imponderable

Ken
 16 January 2014 04:25 AM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
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James ,

An act of God is not a risk but an impondrable.

Ken
 16 January 2014 04:30 AM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
Joined: 15 April 2013

James,

An act of God is not a risk but an imponderable.

Ken
 16 January 2014 11:19 AM
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jarathoon

Posts: 1041
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Originally posted by: kengreen

James,

An act of God is not a risk but an imponderable.

Ken


There may be such a thing as can be described by the words "an imponderable risk", even in engineering terms; the word "imponderable" being the adjective, and the word "risk" being the qualified noun.

However I am left behind completely by your use of the word "imponderable" in a sentence that explicitly defines it as a noun.

I am starting to appreciate why BBC received English has irritated me for as long as I can remember.


-------------------------
James Arathoon
 16 January 2014 03:22 PM
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kengreen

Posts: 400
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JAMES,

You really must be more careful; your command of English begins to look whimsical.

The word "imponderable" is frequently used in the scientific world and, when it is coupled with the word RISK. they become mutually exclusive ?

Your last implied question supplies its own reply.

Ken Green
 16 January 2014 04:16 PM
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westonpa

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Joined: 10 October 2007

If engineers are to learn to take risks then we need to move away from the blame game society. If we want an environment where intelligent risk taking is acceptable then we need a society where the consequences of those risks, if proved to be negative, are accepted as part of the development process. The HSE were mentioned but they are now backtracking on a lot of advice they had been giving over the years, as part of the 'reclaiming health and safety for all', and without actually accepting responsibility that it was their heavy handed approach to risk assessment which has helped create a workbased culture where in many places risk taking is frowned upon. Making decisions about risk when it is clearly at either side of the spectrum are easy; it is when we get to somewhere near the middle it gets difficult. That is of course when the authorities, institutions, many managers, etc., go quiet and this is because they are either not intelligent enough to do the reasonably practicable analysis or else they are afraid of what happens if the negative outcome happens. And do not worry because if the negative outcome happens there will always be a solictor, lawyer, discplinary hearing, etc., ready to take action as is relevant and who will then be fully supported by a whole range of people who will be ready to say 'yes, that engineer should not have done that, what an idiot, should have known better'. It is the employers and authorities who need to learn about risk taking and create an environment in which the engineer is both developed to be competent to take risks and then supported when the outcome is negative. Basically create the right environment for intelligent risk taking. Regards.
 17 January 2014 12:30 PM
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christait

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Joined: 08 February 2013

Originally posted by: kengreen

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


If no risk is acceptable ever, how do we deal with the risk of a meteor strike? They happen, we know they happen, but how can we stop one hitting a Nuclear power plant or other major piece of infrastructure. We can't! So do we stop building infrastructure? No, we assess the risk, and then try to locate things were this eventuality, considered alongside all the other risks, will have the minimum harmfull impact. In the mean time, we look at ways and means of detecting and dealing with meteors within the constraints of human knowledge and ability, and resource availability.

Much of what happenned at Fukushima could (?and should?) have been prevented, because there were known risks, and the level of the event although extreme was within the historical record and could have been planned for. There were several other factors (including many human factors) which affected the plant at the time of the disaster. So this event whilst it may still have ended in a very significant event, could have been anticipated and the risks mitigated. The significant factor at Fukushima was the failure of the standby electricity generator supply to supply the cooling pumps, a plan already existed for this eventuality, but due to human factors some things had slipped over time. (Don't want to go too far on this, as there is still activity around this incident and full detail of what happenned and why could take decades to emerge).

The size of a disaster has to be a significant parameter in a risk assesment. If I prop my bicycle against a wall, if it falls over, the paint work might get scratched, that is to me an acceptable risk; a nuclear reactor melts down because someone pressed the wrong button, this to me is an unacceptable risk that should be planned out. Do I take the whole reactor back to initial design stage, no, I put in a key switch or an interlock to address the risk, and given the possible parameters of a reactor melt down I spend considerably more, if necessary, on that than I would on preventing my bike from falling over.

Edited: 17 January 2014 at 12:43 PM by christait
 17 January 2014 01:21 PM
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jarathoon

Posts: 1041
Joined: 05 September 2004

Given that most of use now pay a charge to have our car tyres disposed of or reprocessed for some purpose properly, it does bother me that many waste sites pile them up high, waiting for a source of ignition to come along.

"Sherburn-in-Elmet tyre fire smoke visible from space"

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-e...th-yorkshire-25767218

I don't see why these companies can't process the waste as it arrives, keeping the open air stocks to a minimum.

http://www.environment-agency....ure/waste/138215.aspx

Fires at waste collection and recycling plants is one problem the Environment Agency and HSE never seems to get to grips with; the piles of waste and the fires just seem to get bigger and bigger.



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James Arathoon
IET » Management in engineering » Why engineers need to *learn* to take risks

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