(NewsUSA) - Most of the time, we don't notice the engineered systems that affect our daily lives. That's because they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. If you flick a light switch and the light turns on, you don't give it a second thought. If the light fails, however, it's a different story.
Some system failures are more serious than others. For example, you probably didn't think too much about offshore oil rigs until the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a disaster that has wrought political, economic and environmental consequences that will last for decades. While the repercussions of large mechanical disasters should not be brushed away, it is true that most systems work the way that they're supposed to. Plenty of oil rigs don't malfunction. The lights in your home function far more often than not.
Why don't things go wrong more often? Well, each object in your home has been designed by engineers, and engineers don't just design things to work. They also figure out what could go wrong with a design, ways to prevent those things from going wrong and ways to minimize the damage if things do go wrong. Engineers analyze all of this in a process called risk assessment.
Risk assessment might sound like something you can do around a boardroom table, but it's actually a complicated process. Assessing risk is a rigorous technical process that involves sophisticated methodologies. Engineers must be vigilant in analyzing and applying protocols and scenarios to thwart events that can cause an undesirable consequence.
Products are designed to succeed. But an engineer will look at all the ways that a product may let a customer down and find ways to stop those failures. For example, outfitting planes' landing gears with more than one tire can prevent accidents caused by punctured tires. Engineers can plan for user errors as well. For example, gas nozzles shut off automatically to prevent spills. Engineers will also figure out maintenance times for parts, and what human errors could be made during maintenance. They will even account for random accidents that could affect the system.
While there's no way to eliminate risk completely, engineers can help design safe systems and thwart undesired outcomes.
For more information, visit www.asme.org.