The implosion that took the lives of five souls who made the perilous deep sea voyage to the Titanic shipwreck is not your typical disaster. But perhaps the OceanGate Titan submersible craft was doomed from the start.
In the wake of the disaster at sea on June 18, these actions are reflective of a company that is in the midst of a crisis of continuity as the overall future of the organization is uncertain.
Given the disaster, it is surprising that the advertising web pages for future Titanic excursions have not yet been taken down. Perhaps it is reflective of a rapidly evolving situation with a company in crisis.
Turner suggested that the interaction of social, organizational and technical processes were key to causing disaster.
Advances in the study of socio-technical problems continue to inform our understanding of unusual technological disasters like submarine implosions. Both normal accident theory and the concept of high-reliability organizations help in understanding the big picture causes of the Titan submersible implosion.
During the mid-1980s, sociologist Charles Perrow established normal accident theory. His premise was that machines, technologies and support systems were extremely complex and tightly coupled. An accident, then, could be considered an inevitable—normal—outcome.
Perrow sought to establish a basis for understanding why accidents will happen involving high-risk systems that someone has decided we cannot live without. Harms from a nuclear meltdown can impact society as whole. But it is complicated considering the demands for divestment from fossil fuels. Arguments can be made from both sides as to whether society can live with nuclear energy or not.
However, in the case of the Titan submersible, a small group of people decided that the rewards outweighed the risks for getting a close-up view of the shipwreck. Accidents due to manned exploration of a treacherous 111-year-old shipwreck site, while tragic, are limited to direct participants.
In his 1993 book, The Limits of Safetypolitical scientist Scott Sagan asked: Are normal accidents inevitable? Or can the combination of interactive complexity and tight coupling be safely managed?
In supporting the safe management of complex technologies, high-reliability organizations emerged. They have a track record of decades of safety with risky technologies. Notwithstanding rare exceptions resulting in disasters like Chernobyl or Fukushimanuclear power plant operators are high-reliability organizations.
A nuclear navy is also a high-reliability organization. Studies of a nuclear submarine’s organizational culture suggested specific social-technical interactions occur. Higher levels of knowledge along with technical experience are necessary. The result of the interaction is to transform a high-risk system into a high reliability system.
Photographs of the interior of the ill-fated Titan submersible show bare walls with no resemblance to a stereotypical cockpit with its bells and whistles. Photographs of the interior of James Cameron’s Titanic exploration submersible, the Deep Sea Challengerappear to resemble a more complicated cockpit with controllers and gauges on the walls.
OceanGate acted to simplify an otherwise complex endeavor, and appear to not have behaved as a high-reliability organization.
A wake-up call
The implosion of the Titan is a wake-up call for exploration or tourism companies who plan to continue to send people to inhospitable environments like the extreme conditions present 12,500 feet below the ocean’s surface. If not doing so at present, these companies should mimic the organizational culture of high-reliability organizations.
A combination of social, organizational and technical factors caused the Titan’s implosion, says researcher (2023, July 7)
retrieved 7 July 2023
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Seyyed Hafeez Hashmi, a multi-faceted individual whose diverse expertise spans the realms of journalism, literature, media, and digital innovation. With a rich tapestry of skills and accomplishments, Seyyed Hafeez Hashmi embodies the essence of a prolific author, seasoned journalist, anchor, analyst, graphics designer, social media influencer, and the visionary force behind several impactful platforms.