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Disasters occur due to overconfidence of humans

Posted on Oct 16, 11:47AM | IANS

Man-made disasters like the sinking of the Titanic and the loss of the NASA space shuttles could have been prevented had it not been for the "inflated confidence" of human beings, says a study by a British university.

The University of Portsmouth found that major disasters could have been averted had it not been for "blindness" caused by over confidence, the Daily Express reported.

Events like two BP oil refinery explosions, the Columbia and Challenger space shuttle disasters and the sinking of the Titanic all have one thing in common, "an inflated degree of confidence".

The report was published in the Safety Science journal.

Speaking on the findings, Ashraf Labib, professor at the university, said: "A lack of failure can lead to over-confidence and 'blindness' to the possibility of problems."

"Some managers and organisations see their role as akin to re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, but disasters, when you study them, are often built on futile exercises that don't help avoid problems," he said.

Labib along with Martin Read found that organisations can have too much belief in previous successes, which is shown by the Titanic which was considered to be "unsinkable" and therefore had insufficient lifeboats on board.

Also the NASA's confidence in its space shuttle programme led it to ignore warning signals related to damage prior to the Challenger disaster in 1986 because of cold weather before launch, and again on the fuel tank foam losses prior to the Columbia disaster in 2003.

According to the report, the NASA's safety culture had become "reactive, complacent and dominated by unjustified optimism".