Complex Systems Research Lab

The increasingly complex systems we are building today enable us to accomplish tasks that were previously difficult or impossible. At the same time, they have changed the nature of accidents and increased the potential to harm not only life today but also future generations. Traditional system safety engineering approaches, which started in the missile defense systems of the 1950s, are being challenged by the introduction of new technology and the increasing complexity of the systems we are attempting to build. Software is changing the causes of accidents and the humans operating these systems have a much more difficult job than simply following pre-defined procedures. We can no longer effectively separate engineering design from human factors and from the social and organizational system in which our systems are designed and operated.

The goal of the Laboratory for Systems Safety Research is to create new tools and processes that will allow us to engineer a safer world. Engineering safer systems requires multi-disciplinary and collaborative research based on sound system engineering principles, that is, it requires a holistic systems approach. SSRL has participants from multiple engineering disciplines and MIT schools as well as collaborators at other universities and in other countries. Current students are working on safety in aviation (aircraft and air transportation systems), spacecraft, medical devices and healthcare, automobiles, railroads, nuclear power, defense systems, energy, and large manufacturing/process facilities. Cross-discipline topics include:

  • Hazard analysis
  • Accident causality analysis and accident investigation
  • Safety-guided design
  • Human factors and safety
  • Integrating safety into the system engineering process
  • Identifying leading indicators of increasing risk
  • Certification, regulation, and standards
  • The role of culture, social, and legal systems on safety
  • Managing and operating safety-critical system


Pages for the Partnership for a System Approach to Safety