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Journal Article


Carvalho PV, Gomes JO, Huber GJ, Vidal MC. Appl. Ergon. 2009; 40(3): 325-340.


Comissao Nacional de Energia Nuclear, Instituto de Engenharia Nuclear, Cidade Univerisitaria, Ilha do Fundão, CEP 21945-970 Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Graduate Program in Informatics-NCEIM, Cidade Universitaria, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil.


(Copyright © 2009, Elsevier Publishing)






A fundamental challenge in improving the safety of complex systems is to understand how accidents emerge in normal working situations, with equipment functioning normally in normally structured organizations. We present a field study of the en route mid-air collision between a commercial carrier and an executive jet, in the clear afternoon Amazon sky in which 154 people lost their lives, that illustrates one response to this challenge. Our focus was on how and why the several safety barriers of a well structured air traffic system melted down enabling the occurrence of this tragedy, without any catastrophic component failure, and in a situation where everything was functioning normally. We identify strong consistencies and feedbacks regarding factors of system day-to-day functioning that made monitoring and awareness difficult, and the cognitive strategies that operators have developed to deal with overall system behavior. These findings emphasize the active problem-solving behavior needed in air traffic control work, and highlight how the day-to-day functioning of the system can jeopardize such behavior. An immediate consequence is that safety managers and engineers should review their traditional safety approach and accident models based on equipment failure probability, linear combinations of failures, rules and procedures, and human errors, to deal with complex patterns of coincidence possibilities, unexpected links, resonance among system functions and activities, and system cognition.

Language: en


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