Safety practices in health care have not kept pace with the increasing complexity of medical technology. Although anaesthesia is generally considered to be a leader in the improvement of patient safety, more powerful safety strategies must be found and employed. From an analysis of system characteristics, the nuclear power industry is proposed as an alternative analogy for safety in anaesthesia, and a novel diagrammatic approach is developed for the conceptualisation of safety goals. The nuclear power industry has spent vastly more time and money than has health care on the development of safety, and has progressed through significant safety milestones approximately three times more quickly than has anaesthesia. The greatest scope for the improvement of safety in anaesthesia lies in the appropriate re-design of medical systems and the lowering of the threshold for the reporting of incidents to include accident precursors, thus allowing the identification of dangerous systems before accidents occur.
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