Of Human and Dams Health

Of Human and Dams Health

Jul 1st, 2020

Someone asked us to do a ELI5 tailings dam failure (i.e. Explain me Like I am 5, aka explain in layman’s term what are the problem in the management of dams). We find the similarities on common traits of Human and Dams Health particularly striking and hope it helps people to understand the missing pieces.

Of Human and Dams Health

Human Health

Human health is a complex field. Numerous factors (Key performance Indicators) may generate diseases which provoke failure modes, such as:

  • Heart issues
  • Lungs issues
  • Liver issues.

Each one of these failure modes is not necessarily fatal but can generate a big quality of life change.

Let’s consider the success criteria as being alive. In this case, the quality of life does not matter, and the failure criteria is, simply, death.

Each failure mode (heart, lungs, liver) can be fatal. Even if each failure mode is not fatal, a combination of them can be fatal. In medicine this is called “multiple organ failure” and there is ample literature studying this.

If you want to be healthy, there is no reason to take a pill for you heart, for your lungs or get a liver transplant just in case. No MD will give you such a silly advice beside very specific cases of preventative surgery. That is because managing the failure modes, which dictate “how you will die”, is not a sensible solution if you are apparently healthy.

Indeed, if you want to be healthy and stay so, you have to manage the causes way upstream of those failure modes. You want to exercise to maintain you heart healthy, stop smoking, and reduce or stop drinking for a similar effect on lungs and liver respectively.

Dams Health

People in charge of dams generally spend their time looking at diseases (i.e. Failure Mode and Effect Analysis), how a dam will fail, rather that why it will fail. Thus, they look at failure modes, in isolation, and rarely combine them, despite forensic analyses showing that dams generally collapse because of combinations of failure modes.

The Oroville forensic analysis concluded that the problems with the spillway originated in a series of human factors that finally lead to the disintegration of its structure. Those same people rarely look at the causes of the failure modes, as they are completely enthralled with the how,  rather than with the why.

For example we find it interesting that in almost every FMEA we have reviewed nothing ever address human error at inception of a design in the form of excessive audacity.

Closing remarks of Human and Dams Health.

The closing remarks of Human and Dams Health are very simple:

We should pay attention to the health of our dams like we care for our bodies if we apply preventative medicine: manage the causes of possible failure modes, rather than “cure the diseases”, in a siloed way, when they shows up.

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Category: Mitigations, Probabilities, Risk analysis, Risk management, Uncategorized

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