Jan 6, 2011

Swiss Cheese Failure: The BP Oil Spill

According to a BBC news article, a new report blames "bad management" for the BP oil spill disaster of last year. However, if you read on the article notes many sources of failure.  You can think of this through the "swiss cheese" model of failure.

When engineers design anything, potential failure is something at the forefront of the process.  Many "barriers" to failure are put up: stronger than necessary materials, tight tolerances to connecting parts, restrictive safety procedures, etc. Each of these can be thought of as a slice of swiss cheese.  They block many problems but each has holes that may let a potential failure through. These barriers are stacked together in the final design and hopefully block all typical problems. However, as in this case, one set of circumstances happens to come at the stack of swiss cheese in such a way as to get through a set of holes in every slice and cause the whole thing to fail.

There's another engineering mantra at play here: "fast, cheap, good - pick two." You can typically only have two of those in a project at the expense of the third.

There may have been direction from higher management to cut costs and time and perhaps those engineers, technicians, and regulators thought they were still sufficient to meet the requirements. Or, perhaps they were pressured to approve things that they saw were not sufficiently "good."

Either way, what are the implications for a theology of technology? At least, it shows that there may be huge implications when an engineer or anyone else working on a project tries to skimp on safety factors. Deuteronomy 22:8 shows us we must put up safety barriers and that the failure to do so puts the fault on our own hands.  Accidents are one thing, but deliberate weakening or removal of safety barriers or failure to put them up in the first place (if that is what happened) are another.

What other implications do you see for a theology of technology?

No comments:

Post a Comment