What will cause the next “nightmare” failure? How can operators prevent these rare events? And, most importantly, how can ROSEN assist them with doing so?
These are the questions that were discussed during the workshop “Management of Rare Events—How Can We Contribute?”, which took place at the RTRC in Lingen on 12 July 2016, and was presented and monitored by Professor Jan Hayes.

The social aspect of technical failure

During her tour of research colleges in several European countries, Jan—a research leader at the Energy Pipelines Cooperative Research Centre in Australia—took the time to visit ROSEN, a member company of the EPCRC. At the RTRC in Lingen, Germany, Jan presented her theory about the role of sociological factors in rare events to a group of interested ROSEN engineers, data analysts, and developers. Her theory is that unexpected disastrous incidents—so-called black swans—are rarely due to mere technical failure. Instead, she argues, they can almost always be attributed to social and organizational circumstances. Post-incident investigation often reveals not a lack of technical knowledge, but failure to adequately apply the knowledge that already exists, be it inadvertently, in good faith, or deliberately. This condition cannot be remedied by additional training or more sophisticated technology. Instead, measures must be taken that address organizational and social factors, such as common procedures, strategic priorities, and values and attitudes.

Different perspectives for visionary solutions

The goal of the workshop was to trigger an out-of-the-box thinking that enables ROSEN to support customers in the prevention or, when necessary, the management of rare events. Traditionally, inspection programs have been primarily technology-driven, so Jan’s talk gave many new—and often surprising—impulses as to where the industry suffers from the greatest gaps regarding effective integrity management. “Behavior is related to circumstances; individuals are in a context,” was an important message that the ROSEN experts took away from the sessions. It inspired various constructive ideas during the following discussion, in which the participants identified what a new proactive service could look like. Applying the black swan theory to ROSEN’s integrity services would mean moving from risk assessment based solely on material properties to assessment that also takes organizational structures and processes into account. How this can be done remains to be clarified, but it is most certainly an intriguing path to explore. The workshop was an important first step for ROSEN to a more holistic approach to the development of organizational safety and disaster prevention services.

About Jan

Jan Hayes has thirty years’ experience in safety and risk management. Having been a director and part owner of one of Australia’s best known industrial risk and safety consultancies for thirteen years, she is now an associate professor in the Centre for Construction Work Health and Safety Research at the RMIT university in Melbourne, Australia, and a research leader at the Energy Pipelines CRC in Australia. Her research addresses specifically the organizational causes of accidents and the implications for accident prevention. Her particular interests include operational decision-making, safety in design, professionalism, effective regulation, and the use of standards. Jan’s numerous publications, among which Nightmare Pipeline Failures: Fantasy planning, black swans and integrity management, have earned her much attention in both the academic and industrial fields, and she is an acclaimed speaker at international events, such as the JTM or the IPC.