Slices of Swiss Cheese to Protect Against Harm

(p. C1) In fact, the “Swiss cheese model” is a classic way to conceptualize dealing with a hazard that involves a mixture of human, technological and natural elements. The British psychologist James Reason introduced the model more than three decades ago to discuss failures in complex systems such as nuclear power, commercial aviation and medical care. As Prof. Reason argued, “In an ideal world each defensive layer would be intact. In reality, however, they are more like slices of Swiss cheese, having many holes. . .. The presence of holes in any one ‘slice’ does not normally cause a bad outcome. Usually, this can happen only when the holes in many layers . . . line up…bringing hazards into damaging contact with victims.”

This is also an invaluable way to think about the response to Covid-19. Last month, a graphic illustrating the model, sketched by the Australian virologist Ian MacKay, became an online sensation among (p. C2) Covid-19 watchers. It showed particles of the SARS-CoV-2 virus passing through layers of Swiss cheese, shrinking in numbers as they negotiated the holes and finally being stopped at the end.

For the full commentary, see:

Nicholas Christakis. “The Swiss Cheese Model For Combating Covid-19.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, November 14, 2020): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 13, 2020, and has the title “How the Swiss Cheese Model Can Help Us Beat Covid-19.”)

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