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Charles Perrow
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Human Dimensions of Fire Management

NRFSN number: 15886
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Many of the accidents that organizations face are a result of complex interactions between multiple events and with multiple actors. They cannot be explained as being only one group or individual’s “fault”. In this book, Perrow investigates the complexity of accidents as events that are inevitable because of the complex interactions between actors, organizations, procedures, supplies, environment, and equipment. Often these elements combine in ways that actually make the problem bigger than it would have been if they had occurred alone. For example, a broken piece of equipment may not cause too much trouble on its own, but if that element were combined with a high-stress situation that demanded the use of that equipment by an untrained worker, the situation could very quickly get out of hand. Perrow explores the complexities and patterns of such accidents using examples from several high risk industries including: nuclear power, chemical, airline, marine transport of dangerous materials/weapons, space, and gene splicing. Recognizing the complexity of routine “accidents” is the first step to untangling the contributing elements. Without recognizing what contributes to these situations, it is difficult to prevent them from happening again. Readers are reminded that managers faced with the task of preventing and responding to disasters must avoid over-simplifying them by looking at the “system,” and by recognizing the complex interdependent contributions of key events and players in the culmination of a disaster.


Perrow C. 1999. Normal accidents: living with high-risk technologies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 386 p.

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