Human Error Causes Most Engineering Disasters

A study by the Swiss government determined the type of human errors that lead to engineering disasters and ranked those errors by percentage.

Rob Spiegel

September 23, 2016

2 Min Read
Human Error Causes Most Engineering Disasters

When you dig into the details of most engineering disasters, human error shows up again and again. Recently, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich analyzed 800 cases of structural failure in which 504 people were killed, 592 people injured, and millions of dollars of damage occurred. When engineers were at fault, the researchers classified the causes of the failure.

The following slides indicate the type of errors possible. The first four slides explain the conditions that caused disasters. The remaining eight slides show the results of the Swiss study, breaking down the human error by type.

Click on the image below to begin the slideshow

The I-35W Mississippi River bridge was an eight-lane, steel truss arch bridge that carried Interstate 35W across the Saint Anthony Falls of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minn. During the evening rush hour on August 1, 2007, it collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145. The National Transportation Safety Board cited a design flaw as the likely cause of the collapse, noting that a too-thin gusset plate ripped along a line of rivets, and asserted that additional weight on the bridge at the time of the collapse contributed to the catastrophic failure. (Source:

(The disaster image in each slide is for illustrative purposes only and does not necessarily correspond with the type of fault named on the slide.)


Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

About the Author(s)

Rob Spiegel

Rob Spiegel serves as a senior editor for Design News. He started with Design News in 2002 as a freelancer and hired on full-time in 2011. He covers automation, manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, AI, and more.

Prior to Design News, he worked as a senior editor for Electronic News and Ecommerce Business. He has contributed to a wide range of industrial technology publications, including Automation World, Supply Chain Management Review, and Logistics Management. He is the author of six books.

Before covering technology, Rob spent 10 years as publisher and owner of Chile Pepper Magazine, a national consumer food publication.

As well as writing for Design News, Rob also participates in IME shows, webinars, and ebooks.

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