Plenary speaker 2 (Virtual)
Professor Sidney W.A. Dekker
Safety Science Innovation, Griffith University
Topic: If we need incentives to speak up, engineering has already failed
As inflation, supply chain issues and global uncertainties persist through 2023, (human factors) engineers might be asked to do more with less; to shore up legacy systems and patch up accumulated technical debt; to compromise on design principles, tests, or even safety margins in order to achieve production or financial goals. Of course, as Petroski reminds us, an engineering design is always a compromise among fundamentally irreconcilable goals, but some have recently led to notorious disasters, such as the Boeing 737 MAX accidents and the 2021 Texas energy infrastructure failure (and earlier ones such as the 1980s Space Shuttle SRB design).
It is increasingly recognized that such compromises may inflict ‘moral injury’ on professionals, whose ethical framework gets violated by the dilemma it puts them in. Moral injury can be triggered by a self-accusation for something one did or failed to do, particularly something related to a professional role or expectation. In this talk, I want to highlight three aspects of engineering compromises and moral injury: (1) the reality of ‘unruly technology’ and need for resilience in addition to robustness and reliability; (2) professional guilt, self-blame and the role of outcome and hindsight; (3) and organizational betrayal—not only in asking engineers to either sacrifice their professional ethic or their career, but in the expectation of ‘cheap grace’ afterward, which does not entail an organizational commitment to live according to the lessons learned.
All three have deep implications for engineering management and leadership—demanding a poise of humility, an understanding of the impacts, needs and obligations that come from moral compromise or bad events, and forward-looking accountability. When calls for enhanced employee voice are made, and engineers need to rely on protections and moral inducements to ‘speak up,’ then the ethical essence of engineering—scepticism, testing, checking, and questioning—has already failed.
Sidney Dekker (PhD, The Ohio State University, USA, 1996) is Professor and Director of the Safety Science Innovation Lab at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, and Professor in the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University in the Netherlands.
Sidney has lived and worked in seven countries and won worldwide acclaim for his work in human factors and safety. He coined the term ‘Safety Differently’ in 2012, which encourages organizations to declutter their bureaucracy and provide people freedom-in-a-frame to make things go well—and to offer compassion, restoration and learning when they don’t.
An avid piano player and pilot, he has been flying the Boeing 737 for an airline on the side.
Sidney is bestselling author of, most recently: Foundations of Safety Science; The Safety Anarchist; The End of Heaven; Just Culture; Safety Differently; The Field Guide to Understanding ‘Human Error’; Second Victim; Drift into Failure; Patient Safety; Compliance Capitalism and Do Safety Differently. He has also co-directed several film documentaries. Stanford has ranked Sidney among the world’s top 2% most influential scientists: his work has well over to 16500 citations and an h-index of 56. More at sidneydekker.com
"When calls for enhanced employee voice are made, and engineers need to rely on protections and moral inducements to ‘speak up,’ then the ethical essence of engineering—scepticism, testing, checking, and questioning—has already failed."
Dr. Thiaga Rajan Palanivel
Minister for Finance and Human Resources
Tamil Nadu, India
Professor Sidney W.A. Dekker
Professor David C. Caple
La Trobe University
Dr. Sarita Dara
Civil Aviation Authority
H Drones & Robotics
Professor Andrew Thatcher
University of the Witwatersrand
Professor Takashi Toriizuka
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