The Engineering X Safer Complex Systems (SCS) mission has published 18 new case studies examining the systemic successes and failures of different events around the world and how approaches to the design, construction, operation, management, or governance of complex systems have resulted in safe or unsafe outcomes.
From fires and train crashes to flood management and nursing care, the case studies provide a new resource to support the education and professional development necessary to achieve safer complex systems.
The case studies cover a wide variety of events, involving different complex systems, geographies, and stakeholders, such as the 2011 Brisbane floods, the 2019 economic and health crises in Chile, and major fires in Dhaka and the Cape. Also covered are failures of humanitarian supply chains in famine areas, the partial collapse of new school buildings in Edinburgh, the Netherlands Delta flood protection programme, and the structural integrity of offshore wind turbines. Several well-known accidents from the past are revisited, including the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise and Hatfield rail crash.
Many of the lessons learned are specific to a certain location or particular combination of factors but there are some common themes that are transferable and relevant to all sectors:
Dame Judith Hackitt DBE FREng, Chair of the Engineering X Safer Complex Systems Board, said: “The most severe threats to our civilisation are complex sociotechnical issues with many interdependencies and no right or wrong solutions. What is striking is that although these case studies come from a wide range of geographies, disciplines and sectors there are lessons to be learned that are more widely applicable.
“Engineers' problem-solving and systems thinking skills are important to successfully responding to the world’s challenges, but in order to take on these responsibilities the profession must be fit for purpose.
“Those of us already in the workforce need to reach out beyond the silos into which our training has often funnelled us. We must learn lessons from and work more widely with others across international boundaries and with all parts of society in order to develop an inclusive, safe and sustainable future. The training and education of our future engineers must be reconfigured to develop and maintain their interest in addressing the many challenges and prepare them for working in a world of ever-increasing complexity.
“We encourage everyone to read and reflect on all these case studies—including those from outside their own sector—share them with their networks and, together, consider how the lessons learned might be applicable in their own professional situations.”
The Safer Complex Systems programme intends to further develop, and build from, the case study content to influence university curricula, continuing professional development (CPD) and chartership (CEng).
The case studies are:
Professor Brian Collins CB FREng, Chair of the SCS Case Study steering committee, led an online event on 25 May 2022 showcasing the work of the awardees and including a panel discussion. Following this event, all case studies were published in full on the Engineering X website.
Dame Judith Hackitt will talk about safer complex systems and other positive lessons we can learn about how to make the world better when she delivers a public lecture at the Engineering Professors Council annual congress on 7 June 2022.
Engineers and non-engineers in academia, industry, and government with an interest and expertise in safety and complex systems are invited to join the mission’s growing global community to better understand and operate complex systems in safe way. Please contact Hazel Ingham, Senior Manager, Engineering X.
Media enquiries to Pippa Cox at the Royal Academy of Engineering Tel. +44 207 766 0745; email: Pippa.Cox@raeng.org.uk