Interesting article from the Wall Street Journal here referencing the work of Scott Shappell and Douglas Wiegmann. The argument is that major disasters are rare, but by measuring near misses we can form a better estimate of how likely these disasters are to occur. Plane crashes are a good example. They are rare, but near misses are a lot more common. Of course, this concept is equally applicable to project management, there’s a lot of sophistication around measuring the actual outcomes. It’s easy since the data is relatively black and white, but measuring what almost succeeded or failed, adds useful data to make better predictions.
You can see one of Shappell and Weigmann’s papers here. One of their key findings on airline safety is that now just about all sources of errors have been corrected, except for human error, where engineering a solution is more problematic. They also point out that given the relentless focus on safety, flying is one of the safest ways to travel.