Barry Turner; Pathogens

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Analyse Barry Turner's ideas on Pathogens and critically evaluate how pathogens could lead to a large scale disaster. In your discussion you are encouraged to investigate the thoughts of other leading authors on root cause analysis and how these compare and contrast to Turner’s ideas. (2996 words, including diagrams). In the course of this paper I will assess Barry Turner’s ideas on pathogens in his manmade disaster model, whilst evaluating its practical relevance compared to root cause analysis, using historical events to provide context and support my conclusions. Much of our contemporary basis for disasters having a social, as well as technical origin was precipitated by the ‘man-made disaster model’ of Barry Turner (Turner, 1978; Turner, 1994; Turner and Pidgeon, 1997). His work stipulated the presence of a social factor inherent in accidents, generally due to the complex nature of their harboring systems. This work has since been built upon in both US and European contexts (Vaughan, 1990; Toft and Reynolds, 1997), two of such developments being Perrow’s (1984) normal accident theory and Reason’s (1990) Swiss cheese model. This body of literature and its subjective approach to identifying risks are often said to adopt a ‘socio-technical’ systems view. Crucially this lens of system design and management recognises the need to broadly consider both the technical and social factors at play in disasters (Cherns, 1987), in contrast to objective methods which are deemed to overlook the ‘socio’ element. As such, those concerned with maintaining control within their organisation must consider three channels of control: both managerial and administrative as well as technical (figure 1).

(figure 1) Essential to the socio-technical framework is recognition that conditions for disaster do not arise overnight but instead “accumulate over a period of time” during an incubation period (Turner and Pidgeon, 1997, p. 72). In this time a confluence of preconditions known as Pathogens interact with one another. It is important to now highlight two distinct features of socio-technical analysis. Firstly, it is the accumulation and interaction of such pathogens which foster disaster, when each independently is unlikely to result in a similarly extreme outcome. Secondly and of similar importance is the axiom that disasters are a “significant disruption or collapse of the existing cultural beliefs and norms about hazards” (Pidgeon and O’Leary, 2000, p. 16). Synthesising these two points then, such incubation periods occur when a series of small events, discrepant with the existing organisational norms occur and accumulate unnoticed. Disasters are then precipitated by a trigger event, which, in light of the build up of pathogens to a critical level leads to a catastrophe. In his paper, Turner (1994) identifies two distinct trends which can be seen as symptomatic of pathogen build up in complex systems; sloppy management and unsound system design, both of which we will now explore.

Within the umbrella issue of poor management I have collected Turner’s thoughts and identified specific precondition enablers. Fore-mostly is the issue of information mis-use, but specifically information asymmetries. Such asymmetries might arise when individuals throughout the hierarchy fail to pass on and reveal information, whether deliberately or otherwise, whilst often the information is mistakenly passed to those who cannot effectively use it. Importantly, there are also cases of deliberate disregard for information as we will see shortly. Significantly this information issue is enhanced as often it cannot be readily identified. Agents operating within the environment believe it is normal and acceptable for such a ‘degraded state’ to prevail (Weir, 1991). If this is the case, it precludes the possibility of pre-condition neutralisation, as it becomes impossible to recognise the behavior as divergent, as it is no longer discrepant with the organisational norm. Turner...
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