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The Human Contribution: Unsafe Acts, Accidents and Heroic Recoveries Paperback – December 30, 2008
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The Human Contribution adds further to James' work but it also summarises a lot of his previous work. On the theoretical side, James describes some new risk models and comments on recent developments in risk models developed by others. Some of his comments are particularly interesting, I will provide you some extra highlights further below.
At the core of his new book are the stories of major accidents, in particular those where `heroic actions' prevented much worse from occurring. The Boeing from Air Canada that had to make an emergency landing on an air strip so small that the pilot had no choice but to gamble flying as if it was a glider plane (no one ever dared trying that). Captain Rostron who rescued the survivors of Titanic with an old ship that could have easily suffered the same fate as Titanic. There are many great stories of heroic behavior that are told by James in a very clear and factual manner.
The reason James puts such an emphasis on these stories becomes clear in his chapter on individual and collective mindfullness. The tension between the concept of `human as hazard' and `human as hero' is what Professor Reason has on his mind. His work on accident causation, which has led to the incredibly popular Tripod Beta incident analysis method, has contributed to organisations treating their employees mainly as hazards.Read more ›
* The first part of the book is devoted to a series of lists and definitions. Worthy and academically rigorous but, well, dull.
* There is some interesting theory, particularly around the author's "swiss cheese" model.
* The examples or "case studies" take up a fair part of the book and begin to look suspiciously like padding. They could easily be drawn from Wikipedia or similar sources. Much more detail than necessary.
* The summarising chapters, which introduce some additional theory, are worthwhile.
Overall I would have liked to have seen more theory and less detail in the description of accidents, but the book is well worth the money.
To paraphrase James Reason: "Safety is a goal that has to be constantly striven for rather than achieved. Safety is not a state of grace but a guerilla war, and there is a silver lining: you can still do the best you can."