Failures 'help organisations learn'
Experiencing failure and avoiding over-confidence could have prevented some of the world's greatest disasters such as the sinking of the Titanic and the loss of two Nasa space shuttles, according to new research.
Professor Ashraf Labib and Dr Martin Read, of the University of Portsmouth Business School, claim that organisations could prevent major problems by suffering and learning from previous difficulties.
The research, published in the Safety Science journal, said the Columbia and Challenger space shuttle disasters as well as the Titanic sinking, two BP oil refinery explosions and the recall of millions of cars by Toyota all had in common an "inflated degree of confidence".
Prof Labib said: "A lack of failure can lead to over-confidence and 'blindness' to the possibility of problems.
"Some managers and organisations see their role as akin to re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, but disasters, when you study them, are often built on futile exercises that don't help avoid problems."
The report's authors argue that organisations learn more effectively from failures than from successes. The authors have created a list of 10 tools based on the study of high-profile disasters to help organisations understand how they came to happen.
The first tool is that organisations can have too much belief in previous successes which is shown by the Titanic which was considered to be unsinkable and therefore had insufficient lifeboats on board.
Also Nasa's confidence in its space shuttle programme led it to ignore warning signals related to both the o-rings damage prior to the Challenger disaster in 1986 because of cold weather before launch, and again on the fuel tank foam losses prior to the Columbia disaster in 2003.
According to the investigation report Nasa's safety culture had become "reactive, complacent and dominated by unjustified optimism".
The researchers say that for organisations to successfully avoid major disasters they need to undertake risk and reliability analysis.