Monday, April 20, 2015

Systems View of Safety and Engineering Design

I'm pulling together my plan for blogposts this week, and it may prove a good capstone of the recent months' material. This weekend I caught up on the Safety Engineering portion of MITx 16.00 Introduction to Aerospace Engineering: Astronautics and Human Spaceflight.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I had dealt with software safety concerns in a previous position. Those concerns inspired me to study both IE 558: Safety Engineering and IE 577: Human Factors in Engineering. And yet I found myself disappointed, that they primarily focused on earth-based factory and office work, and barely got into the integrated (human-in-the-loop design) stories of major industrial accidents like the Union Carbide Bhopal disaster.

I was pleased to see that this MOOC takes the Systems View of Human Factors, System Safety, and Software Safety. I would encourage any engineers to connect to this MOOC just to watch the Unit 5 videos, if nothing else, because of the important discussion.

I have touched on Systems-of-Systems thinking with respect to science history once before. I think this song may prove the theme for this week:


If you are interested in the subject of System Safety, I strongly recommend Set Phasers on Stun: And Other True Tales of Design, Technology, and Human Error.

However, because I want to get into concepts of culture as part of a system, I would also like you to consider the following.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell has some interesting stories and concepts related to all of this. I've referenced it before in previous posts about class, opportunities, hobbies and the potential for careers.

As I recall it, both "Set Phasers on Stun" and "Outliers" discuss Korean Air's 1997 crash. Airplane crash investigation news reports are another thing that I usually read when I come across them, because of their relevance to space and aviation safety. I generally do not comment before the NTSB (or related government agency) investigation is complete.

The "Ask a Korean!" blog has several excellent posts cautioning against an over-reliance on culturalism in explaining crashes (or accidents):
I hope that these reading "assignments" will help this week, as I work to tie many my recent 2 months+ posts about language, religions, technology, space & future studies; in short all the things that go into "culture,"  into the discussions on the narrative of Mars settlement, decolonizing STEM, and, ultimately, information about the Thirty-Meter Telescope controversy in Hawaii.

In the process of understanding why I care about these matters, I am having to think about what it is that I am "covering," and how that plays into the discussion.