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Risk analysis essential to avoid disasters


I read Dave Parker's column (NCE 8 March) and wondered what our profession has learnt about major accidents over the years.

He states that nothing could have been done to prevent the accident at Great Heck. He realises it could have been a lot worse, but says protection measures would only save a few lives at great cost and inconvenience and concludes that engineers have been doing just fine exercising their own judgement in matters of risk.

I have to ask, given all the major accidents reported by NCE in recent times, are these really the messages that the public wants to hear from this modern engineering profession of ours?

History shows that engineering judgment is useless for assessing and managing low frequency, high consequence events like Great Heck. That is why risk analysis developed for identifying hazards, assessing consequences and likelihood, then evaluating risk management adequacy against corporate and national criteria.

I agree with Dave Parker on one thing. Accidents will always happen. There will always be unforeseen combinations of events causing large loss of life. Disasters, on the other hand, need to be organised.

We employ risk analysis to avoid disasters. The public demands it and they are right to do so.

Gerard Burke (M), 27 Cairnaquheen Gardens, Aberdeen

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