Don’t Miss Important Warning Signs

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Process safety is on my mind for several reasons, including the recent explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant and this month’s On the Horizon article, “Improve Process Safety with Near-Miss Analysis,” by Ulku Oktem, Warren Seider, Masoud Soroush, and Ankur Pariyani (pp. 20–27).

The February Spotlight on Safety column focused on black swan events — i.e., highly improbable events that are unpredictable, carry massive impacts, and in retrospect can be explained in a way that makes them appear less random and more predictable than previously thought. In my editorial in that issue, I referred to work by Elisabeth Paté-Cornell of Stanford Univ., who suggested that the term black swan is used too liberally after a disaster as an excuse for poor planning.

Keywords: black swan, near-misses, safety