This paper aims to argue that, contrary to popular thinking, technological disasters are potentially predictable, and therefore amenable to risk assessment and mitigation. What is lacking at present is a more comprehensive understanding of the hazards, embedded in complex socio‐technical systems, which lead to such disasters.
The paper discusses several factors that contribute to hazard formation and development, including the interaction of human and mechanical components, ambiguity, evolutionary changes, innovation and poor communication in organisational systems. Two case studies of recent disasters in Australia are presented to provide illustrations of the complexity in socio‐technical systems and the hazards and risks that they harbour.
The paper finds that to progress, we need two things: better conceptual models and frameworks that reveal complexity and make systems more transparent, and more satisfactory approaches to risk management.
The paper concludes with some suggestions as to how the risks might be better understood and managed proactively.
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