The history of the reliability field may be traced back to the early years of 1930s when probability concepts were applied to electric power generation-associated problems [1, 2]. During World War II, Germans applied the basic reliability concepts to improve reliability of their VI and V2 rockets. During the period of 1945-1950, the U.S. Department of Defense conducted various studies concerning electronic equipment failure, equipment maintenance, repair cost, etc. As the result of the findings of these studies, it formed an ad hoc committee on reliability, and in 1952, the committee was transformed to a permanent body: The Advisory Group on the Reliability of Electronic Equipment. Additional information on the history of the reliability field is available in Ref. [3].

Although, the precise origin of maintainability as an identifiable discipline is somewhat obscured, but in some ways, the concept goes back to the very beginning of the twentieth century. For example, in 1901, the Army Signal Corps contract for the development of the Wright Brothers' airplane stated that the aircraft should be 'simple to operate and maintain' [4]. In the modern context, the beginning of the discipline of maintainability may be traced to the period between World War II and the early years of 1950s, when various studies carried out by the U.S. Department of Defense and produced startling results [5, 6]. For example, a Navy study reported that during maneuvers, electronic equipment was operative only 30% of the time. Additional information on the history of maintainability is available in Refs. [7, 8].

The history of the safety field may be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi (2000 BC) developed by a Babylonian ruler named Hammurabi. However, in modern times, in 1868, a patent was awarded for the first barrier safeguard in the United States [9]. Twenty-five years later in 1893, the U.S. Congress passed the Railway Safety Act, and in 1912, the Cooperative Safety Congress met in Milwaukee, Wisconsin [9, 10]. Additional information on the history of safety is available in Ref. [11].

Reliability, maintainability, and safety facts, figures, and examples

Some of the facts, figures, and examples, directly or indirectly, concerned with engineering system reliability/maintainability/safety are as follows:

  • • As per Refs. [12, 13], the number of persons killed because of computer system-related failures was somewhere between 1000 and 3000.
  • • Each year, the U.S. industry spends about $300 billion on plant maintenance and repair [14].
  • • A study by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported that around 65% of nuclear system failures involve human error [15].
  • • In 2002, a study commissioned by the National Institute of Standards and Technology reported that software errors cost the U.S. economy about US $59 billion per year [16].
  • • A study reported that around 12%—17% of the accidents in the industrial sector using advanced manufacturing technology were related to automated production equipment [17,18].
  • • In a typical year, the work accidental deaths by cause in the United States are motor vehicle related: 37.2%, falls: 12.5%, electric current: 3.7%, drowning: 3.2%, fire related: 3.1%, air transport related: 3%, poison (solid, liquid): 2.7%, water transport related: 1.65%, poison (gas, vapor): 1.4%, and others: 31.6% [9,19].
  • • In the European Union, approximately 5500 persons are killed due to workplace-related accidents each year [20].
  • • In 1969, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare special committee reported that over a period of ten years, there were around 10,000 medical device-related injuries and 731 resulted in deaths [21, 22].
  • • As per Ref. [23], some studies carried out in Japan indicate that more than 50% of working accidents with robots can be attributed to faults in the control systems' electronic circuits.
  • • A study reported that approximately 18% of all aircraft accidents are maintenance related [24, 25].
  • • A study of safety-related issues concerning onboard fatalities of jet fleets worldwide for the period of 1982-1991 reported that inspection and maintenance were clearly the second most important safety issue, with a total of 1481 onboard fatalities [26, 27].
  • • A study of over 4400 maintenance-related records concerning a boiling water reactor nuclear power plant covering the period from 1992 to 1994 reported that around 7.5% of all failure records could be attributed to human error related to maintenance tasks/activities [28, 29].
  • • In coal mining-related operations throughout the United States, during the period 1990-1999,197 equipment fires resulted in 76 injuries [30].
  • • As per Ref. [31], during the period of 1990-1994, around 27% of the commercial nuclear power plant outages in the United States were the result of human error.
  • • A Boeing study reported that approximately 19.2% of in-flight engine shutdowns are due to maintenance error [32].
  • • In 1979, in a DC-10 aircraft accident in Chicago, 272 persons lost their lives because of wrong procedures followed by maintenance personnel [33].
  • • In 1991, United Airlines Flight 585 (aircraft type: Boeing 737-291) crashed because of rudder device malfunction and caused 25 fatalities [34].
  • • In 2002, an Amtrak auto train derailed because of malfunctioning brakes and poor track maintenance near Crescent City, Florida, and caused four deaths and 142 injuries [35].
  • • As per Ref. [36], the Emergency Care Research Institute after examining a sample of 15,000 hospital products concluded that about 4%-6% of these products were dangerous enough for warranting immediate corrective measure [36].
  • • The Internet has grown from four hosts in 1969 to over 147 hosts and 38 sites in 2002, and in 2001, there were 52,000 Internet-related failures and incidents [37].
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