AUTHORPerrow, Charles
TITLENormal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies
PUBLISHERPrinceton University Press
CITYPrinceton, NJ

This book examines what the author calls “normal” accidents – those that arise in high-risk technological systems from seemingly innocent mishaps – in order to illuminate the nature of the flaws in such systems’ design and the need for improved risk assessment. The book begins with a chapter addressing the 1979 severe crisis at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania, which the author defines as a system accident. His review of accidents in the nuclear industry leads the author to conclude that large nuclear plants have not yet had the time to “express themselves” (p. 12), meaning the complexity and interconnectedness of the system lends itself to a broad array of potential accidents, as do such systems in other industries. The author then defines the terms of his analysis and proceeds, through several more chapters, to examine accidents in other industries such as aircraft, mining, and genetic engineering. Integrating accident details with discussion of inherent problems, the author emphasizes the wide-ranging and devastating consequences of poor system design. In conclusion, he reflects on the field of risk-assessment, in particular the role of cognitive psychology and the public in high-risk decision making. The book was first published in 1984. The 1999 edition contains a new afterword, summarizing accidents that occurred between 1984 and 1999 and interpretations of them as relevant to the author's thesis.

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