Friday, July 14, 2006

Cable car accident

There has been an accident on the Nevis Range cable car system in Scotland. See article at

We had a great day out on this last summer when we were touring the area. It was our younger son's birthday treat, before going to MacDonalds in Fort William for lunch (his idea, not ours).

It will be interesting to see what the cause comes out to be. More immediately, how to you balance risks with having a good time. Of course there must be risks from cable cars, but people seem to expect that everything can be made risk free. We have a cable car system in Llandudno, but it has not worked for several years (I don't know why). I doubt this accident will help its restart.

Radiation risks

There was a very interesting edition of Horizon on BBC2 last night. See write-up here

Looking at data from Chernobyl, the cases of cancer following the accident are far lower than expected. The suggested reason is that the predictions were based on data from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs. Whilst these provided plenty of data for high doses of radiation, the effect of low doses was determined on a straight line graph, suggesting all levels of radiation have some risk. The basic premise of the Horizon program was that there is a minimum threshold, below which there is very little risk and in fact some data suggests it may be beneficial.

I had always naively assumed that when it was reported that 2,000 or 20,000 people had died prematurely as the result of Chernobyl, that this was based on medical data (i.e. the actual number of people that have died). It actually turns out that this was probably based on projected figures. A good example of where a projected figure is published, and over time it starts to be quoted as an actual result.

I have often wondered if we can get useful data from animals. They were not evacuated from region after the accident, and even today there are sheep in the UK that are considered too contaminated for human consumption. The program did follow this line of investigation, and claimed that there was no evidence that animalimal populations were suffering from the effects.

ossibly more harmful than the actual exposure.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Emails deleted from server

Apparently PlusNet have wiped a load of emails from their server during a system upgrade. It is estimated 700 GB of data was lost when a a senior engineer mistook the management interface of a live email server for that of a backup server, and erased all the data on the wrong one.

Company representative Ian Wild has assured disgruntled members: "It was a genuine mistake, an accident, and I'm afraid no measure of change control procedures or anything else would have completely prevented this. At the end of the day, all we can do is hold our hands up here and say that although an unfortunate set of events, this should never have happened… you can never remove the risk of a human error entirely."

Interesting how companies start to say human error cannot be totally eliminated when they think it might get them out of paying compensation. Conversely, they choose to blame individuals for making errors (i.e. suggesting errors are preventable) when they think that transfer the heat from the company. Or am I being cynical?

Article is at,39020336,39278586,00.htm

Basic ergonomics

Although I am a registered member of the ergonomics society (virtually equivalent to being chartered - but the society does not yet have chartership available) I rarely get involved in what I call 'basic ergonomics.' To me this is the occupational health side, whereas I usually deal with major hazard risks and more interested in human error and system safety.

Found this useful summary of 'eight ergonomic essentials' at

1. Move frequently - "the best position is the next position."
2. Rest frequently.
3. Use proper postures - maintain the spine's natural curve
4. Keep an eye on vision - make sure things are at or just below eye level and in front of you at a comfortable viewing distance
5. Organise things into your reach zone
6. Use the right tool for the task
7. Don't be afraid to ask for help
8. Listen to your sensible self - look at what you are doing and ask if things could be arranged better

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Unable to use the emergency phone

Continuing my theme of problems caused by technology. Talking to some people recently. They have to communicate with an offshore platform. There was a problem with the 'land-line' phone system. Following previous problems, they had been provided with a satellite phone. Unfortunately they had never used it before, and were not sure how to use it. Also, they did not know what number to call to contact the platform.

People seem to assume new technology creates automatic improvement. This is clearly not the case.