Partnership for a Systems Approach to Safety
The increasingly complex systems we are building today enable us to accomplish tasks that were previously difficult or impossible. At the same time, they have changed the nature of accidents and increased the potential to harm not only life today but also future generations.
Traditional system safety approaches, which started in the missile defense systems of the 1950s, are being challenged by the introduction of new technology and the increasing complexity of the systems we are attempting to build. Software is changing the causes of accidents and the humans operating these systems have a much more difficult job than simply following predefined procedures. We can no longer effectively separate engineering design from human factors and from the social and organizational system in which our systems are designed and operated.
A potential solution is to take a systems approach to safety and apply systems thinking as outlined in Leveson’s 2012 book Engineering a Safer World. The goal of the Collaboration on Systems Approaches to Safety is to create new tools and processes that implement this systems thinking approach.
Engineering safer systems will require multi-disciplinary and collaborative research based on sound system engineering principles. PSAS encourages participation from multiple MIT schools (engineering, management, social sciences, and sciences) as well as collaborators at other universities and in other countries.
Current PSAS affiliates are working on safety in aviation (aircraft and air transportation systems), spacecraft, medical devices and healthcare, automobiles, railroads, nuclear power, defense systems, energy, and large manufacturing/process facilities (such as oil and gas).
Cross-disciplinary topics include:
- New, more powerful hazard analysis techniques
- Accident investigation and causality analysis
- Human factors and safety
- Integrating safety into the system engineering process
- Identifying leading indicators of increasing risk
- Certification, regulation, and standards
- The role of culture, social, and legal systems on safety
- Management and operation of safety-critical systems
Principles for the Operation of PSAS
PSAS operates with some basic guiding principles:
- Collaboration: Emphasis is on collaborative research with like-minded thinkers around the world who want to apply systems thinking to safety. Collaborators can include universities, government agencies, companies, and other groups worldwide.
- Systems thinking: Research looks at safety from a holistic, systems approach rather than just at the technical, managerial, or social factors in isolation from each other.
- We solve real problems, not just abstract or theoretical ones: Our goal is to have impact on risk management as practiced and on accidents as experienced in the world, not simply to publish academic papers.
- Guided by the needs of stakeholders: Problems on which to focus are selected for their importance in real-world settings. Partners in industry and government and other stakeholders (users of these systems and employees who work in them) provide inputs about the unsolved problems they face.
- Enhance communication and cooperation: PSAS provides an environment where companies, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders (e.g., users, employees and unions, customers) can cooperate without conflict of interest or legal issues.
- Technology transfer: Technology transfer from research to practice is emphasized including implementing and tailoring specific solutions for a particular company or government agency.
- Consider all aspects of system safety: The entire system lifecycle is considered. Too often researchers focus on system design and development and apply less effort to operations and management.
- Socio-technical view of safety: The entire socio-technical structure is considered from government to management and down to designers and operators. Effective solutions to safety problems usually require changes at all these levels, not just in the physical system itself.
- International viewpoint: Solutions should be applicable globally and not just to particular countries or parts of the world or even industries.
Several people at the workshop wanted a mailing list to discuss and to circulate information about STAMP and the tools built on it (CAST, STPA, etc.). We have created the STAMP Forum mailing list hosted at MIT. To sign up, go to this link.
The mailing list is not a general safety discussion list (of which there are already several). The intent is to have this focused solely on STAMP and thus to limit the email traffic.