Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

The Ethical Relevance of Risk Assessment and Risk Heeding: the Space Shuttle Challenger launch decision as an object lesson

Robert Allinson


For the purpose of this analysis, risk assessment becomes the primary term and risk management the secondary term. The concept of risk management as a primary term is based upon a false ontology. Risk management implies that risk is already there, not created by the decision, but lies already inherent in the situation that the decision sets into motion. The risk that already exists in the objective situation simply needs to be “managed”. By considering risk assessment as the primary term, the ethics of responsibility for risking the lives of others, the environment and future generations in the first place comes into the forefront. The issue of risk heeding is especially important as it highlights the need to pay attention to warnings of danger and to take action to redress problems before disasters occur. In this paper, the decision making that led to the choice of technology utilized and the implementation of such technology in the case of the space shuttle Challenger disaster will be used as a model to illustrate the need to take ethical factors into account when making decisions regarding the safety of technological systems and the heeding of danger warnings. While twenty-five years separates the decision to launch the Challenger and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster, the lessons of the Challenger disaster are still to be learned.

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