Normal Accidents

The complexity of modern organizations has heightened the necessity that they perform at a high level of reliability, especially when the costs of failure are quite high (e.g., submarines, nuclear power plants, traffic control systems, etc.) Perrow (1984) notes that characteristic of these systems include high complexity, tight coupling (little slack between activities), and non-linear interactivity (especially following unexpected sequences f events that are not immediately visible or understandable). Some of the factors promoting high reliability are "selection and training of personnel, redundancy of functions, reliance on colleagiality and negotiation within a tight formal command structure, and a culture emphasizing cooperation and committment to high standards" (Scott p. 351).

However, Perrow (1984) argues that in really complex systems they are bound to fail, producing "normal" accidents -- these systems should be abandoned as hopeless.