Risk management: sociotechnological risks and disasters

Authored by: Jean-Christophe Le Coze

Routledge Handbook of Risk Studies

Print publication date:  April  2016
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138022867
eBook ISBN: 9781315776835
Adobe ISBN: 9781317691662


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This chapter is about managing sociotechnological risks. It was in the 1970s that the notion of ‘high-risk’ (or ‘safety critical’) systems started to be distinguished and grouped into an independent category including industries such as the nuclear, aviation, marine, petrochemical or the railways. This new category created a sense of common interest for specific issues linked with the operation of such systems. What they shared was their potential harm to society. Planes can crash; boats can sink; trains can derail; nuclear, petrochemical and chemical plants can explode; and dams, mines and bridges can collapse. They threatened the lives of a great number of people at once, and/or could endanger generations to come with their long-term radiological or toxicological effects. Of course, accidents and catastrophes with a high number of victims were nothing new in the 1970s because there was already a long list of disasters in the railway, aviation, marine and also chemical and mining industries. The question of ensuring that these types of systems operated safely was already on the agenda of companies, civil society and states for a long time, as historians have shown in the early days of the Industrial Revolution (Fressoz, 2012), but it coalesced into a separate area of investigation and scholarship around the end of the 1970s and during the 1980s.

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