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What Causes Man-made Accidents and Disasters?

Posted in: Error management, Man Made Disasters, Safety Started by

What Causes Man-made Accidents and Disasters?

Back in 1994, two highly trained U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter jets patrolling the No-Fly -Zone over Kurdistan in Northern Iraq, shot down 2 U.S. Amy Black Hawk UH-60 helicopters. Americans called it friendly fire. I call it a man-made disaster!

Sometimes the military likes phony names. It does not mean they always do a phony job. Thanks to a root-cause analysis after that incident, we got to know something we should have known. At best friendly-fire is an oxymoron. At worst, it is mitigated speech, aimed at confusing a country bumpkin from Africa like me. But that is not the POINT!

The point is that friendly fire did not tell us the cause of the shooting. It took a researcher Scott. A Snook, a researcher to uncover it all and then theorize “Practical Drift,” which I consider a common cause for most man-made accidents and disasters.

In other words, the cause of black hawks being shot down is very similar to the cause of a nuclear meltdown, dam collapse, plane crashes, stadium collapse, ferry accidents, hotel fires, train crash, refinery fires, gas explosions, power outages, boiler crash, virus attacks, and yes, stolen elections. Haha!

All of them have one common denominator, they are born of human drift. They are not Acts of God. They are are not caused by events or circumstances outside of human control. The reverse is true.


Locally evolved practice or usage of any machine or system is often different from the ideal or planned guidelines of usage. The conditions of usage are often different from those considered or envisaged during design. When that happens, drift happens. Disaster happens!

Take for example, a car designed to be used in cold temperate climes, ends up in a tropical hot climate of my native Cameroon. There are a myriad of similar misplacement of resources that degenerate into serious man-made disasters.

Clearly, mankind is NOT the best steward of the earth. Not yet! Everyday, we are undermining the earth through all kinds of activities that are very different from what the creator had envisaged. Ozone depletion and pollution? Haha… Clearly a case of practical drift is adrift here.

Maybe God did not also foresee that mankind will be very adventurous with airplanes, nuclear reactors, F16 jet, condoms, jet skis pistoles, boilers, refineries, and sharp objects. So Why is Man So Desperately prone to Making Fatal Mistakes and Drifting far and wide in the oceans of life?

This is partly due to on-scene conditions and partly due to our other inherent human biases. Hmmm?

Unfortunately, the designers are often different from users. On one hand the creator could not consult with man during creation …. But what about man-made systems? Why do we fail to involve users in the design of new systems?

Whenever we fail to understand how the users will use a systems, practical drift is inevitable. So to fix practical drift we must design systems that are cognizant of user needs, biases and short sightedness. We must tailor it to the knowledge of the user and not the other way around. If it is too sophisticated, the user will take short cuts, if it is too intensive, he will cut corners and before long KABOOM!!!!!