Beware of the Black Swan

  • Type:
    Conference Presentation
  • Conference Type:
    Global Congress on Process Safety
  • Presentation Date:
    April 4, 2012
  • Skill Level:
  • PDHs:

Share This Post:

You will be able to download and print a certificate for PDH credits once the content has been viewed. If you have already viewed this content, please click here to login.

In 16th century London, a statement that describes impossibility was referred to as a “black swan” because all historical records of swans up to that time had reported that swans only had white feathers. The Greek philosopher Aristotle first used the term “white swan” as an example of necessary relations and the term “black swan” as the expression of the improbable. Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his recent book entitled The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable discusses the extreme impact of rare and unpredictable events (black swans) and the human tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events after they occur. Those of us that attempt to evaluate risk must understand that black swan events cannot be predicted using current risk analysis tools. We must also remember the lessons learned from previous black swan events when designing and operating new chemical processing facilities.

This paper will discuss the concept of the black swan as applied to chemical process risk assessment. Lessons learned from black swan events of the past and the applicability of these lessons to the design and operations of existing and new chemical processing facilities will be discussed. The limitations of LOPA and other risk analysis tools in predicting blacks swan events will be examined. The discussion on the limitations of risk analysis will include examples of hazards scenarios where risk analysis tools such as LOPA may not be appropriate.


John Murphy, PE

John Murphy has more than 40 years of experience in chemical manufacturing and process safety with jobs in the chemical industry, consulting and government. He has retired from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board where he served as lead investigator. John also retired from Dow Chemical Company where he was a leader in process safety.

He has a BS in Chemical Engineering from Tufts University and an MBA from Central Michigan University. John has special expertise in incident investigation and root cause analysis, reactive chemicals management, and process safety...Read more



Do you already own this?

Log In for instructions on accessing this content.


AIChE Member Credits 0.5
AIChE Members $15.00
AIChE Undergraduate Student Members Free
AIChE Graduate Student Members Free
Non-Members $25.00