The complexity of failure: Implications of complexity theory for safety investigations

There are no files associated with this record.

Title The complexity of failure: Implications of complexity theory for safety investigations
Author Dekker, Sidney; Cilliers, Paul; Hofmeyr, Jan-Hendrik
Journal Name Safety Science
Year Published 2011
Place of publication Netherlands
Publisher Elsevier BV
Abstract Complexity theory suggests that we see performance as an emergent property, the result of complex interactions and relationships. This can clash, however, with what stakeholders see as legitimate and normal in accident investigations. When systems fail, it is still common to blame components (e.g. human errors) and when they succeed spectacularly, to think in terms of individual heroism (e.g. the A320 Hudson River landing). In this paper, we lay out the contrast between a Newtonian analysis of failure that can be recognized in many efforts at safety analysis and improvement. It makes particular assumptions about the relationship between cause and effect, foreseeability of harm, time-reversibility and the ability to produce the “true story” of an accident. With inspiration from complexity theory, failures are seen as an emergent property of complexity. We explore what that means for safety science and work towards a post-Newtonian analysis of failure in complex systems.
Peer Reviewed Yes
Published Yes
Alternative URI http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2011.01.008
Volume 49
Issue Number 6
Page from 939
Page to 945
ISSN 0925-7535
Date Accessioned 2011-07-14
Date Available 2012-02-10T01:23:09Z
Language en_US
Faculty Arts, Education and Law
Subject Mechanical Engineering
URI http://hdl.handle.net/10072/42265
Publication Type Journal Articles (Refereed Article)
Publication Type Code c1

Brief Record

Griffith University copyright notice