Does risk really has a meaning ?

We were a bit unlucky today since the lunch buffet @ nasi campur has significantly depleted. It was only 1 o’clock at noon. What was happening?  So, we had to request for additional dishes to be cooked.  It was good in a way good, since it gave us more opportunity to exchange opinions etc. We were having lunch at Senibong, after an interesting discussions on research collaborations.

 

On our way back, we discussed about the lack of data integration and perhaps sharing of information on certain major decisions. Take for example a housing estate sitting next to an industrial area. Or some activities well into the buffer zones set by the environmental impact assessment (EIA). Consider an incinerator, or a tyre factory built near the perimeter of an industrial area. Few years later, a local authority approved a housing estate or a commercial area adjacent to those facilities. Few months later, the residents start complaining on the bad smell, poor air quality etc. Who is actually at fault? If the plants complied with air emission requirement, should they be blamed? 

IMG_7792

Industrial area – along with jobs and economic opportunities, it also introduces hazards to the surrounding

 

On another perspective, I am sure that many of us have come across arguments given on some controversial projects, saying that the EIA has been carried out and all the measures required have been spelled out clearly in the report, and these have been agreed upon by all parties involved. That includes various mitigating measures to reduce the risks due to hazards introduced by the  project to the community. Then, when the project completed with many or some of these measures forgotten, would the authority be alert enough to ensure that sufficient and timely actions are taken to ensure compliance?

Risk = Severity X Likelihood.

Severity is the level of impacts due to consequences arose from the new activities proposed by the project. Take for example, a chemical plant with hazards of fire and explosion. If the capacity is large, which is normally the case for bulk chemical plants such as refineries, crackers etc, the consequence can be really severe with the zones of 100% fatalities covering a large area. It may be the case that a school is within this 100 % fatal area. This means that if  the explosion at full scale did somehow happen, the whole school and all the innocent school children will end up dead. God forbid, who would want it to happen? Then may be we shouldn’t allow the plant to be built there since the communities have been there earlier !

Then a risk assessment consultant presents to you the other half of the equation, the likelihood. What if he says, the likelihood is 1 in 100 million or 1 x 10E-08. This will make the risk level to be 1 in 100 million fatality per year, which is considered remote. At this level the whole world will accept that it is remote because the universally accepted level of tolerable risk for involuntary exposure to the residential community is 1 in a million fatality per year. Can you accept this? I asked somebody about it and he jokingly said, it is ok if anybody dear to me or I, myself are not among the statistics. See… It is ok, as long that it is not me…

That is why for cases like this, although the risk assessment has been carried out in ethical manner by the consultants and all possible issues have been considered, we still hope that additional mitigating measures are proposed due to the vulnerability level, which is normally further highlighted by societal risks  (societal risk is not strictly required in our previous guideline, 1994, perhaps it has been amended? I forgot to check). But the issue is, will we be caring enough to ensure that these additional measures that costs money be implemented, especially when the green light has been given?

Somebody argued. Well, the consequence of flying is equally high (remember MH370, MH17 and QZ8501 ? – No Survivors!). Well, there is a big difference ! In this case it is a voluntary risk. You decide to fly, and you have the option not to. In the case of the residential area in the above case, they didn’t have any choice. Somebody brought the hazards to them.

It is nice if we can have NIMBY (not in my backyard) policy, but not everybody has that luxury.

So, does risk has a meaning after all???

 

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Untuk Sahabatku Para Sukarelawan

sukarelawan

Perkarangan Masjid Tanah Merah, kelantan

Amal sukarelawan

Sheikh berkata,… permulaannya susah, tetapi penutupnya manis. Itu telah cukup untuk menggambarkan misi kemanusiaan. Memang banyak cabaran perlu dilalui – perjalanan yang jauh dan sukar, belanja dan tenaga yang perlu dicurah – namun di penghujungnya jiwa yang suci pasti dapat merasai kemanisan.

Senyuman yang terukir di wajah mereka telah cukup untuk menghilangkan lelah. Selut dan lumpur yang berjaya dibersihkan cukup memberikan kepuasan. Apatah lagi persaudaraan dan persahabatan yang dibina di sepanjang perjalanan, ianya ganjaran berharga yang sukar dinilai. Kebersamaan di medan amal kebajikan bakal membuahkan persahabatan yang diredha Tuhan.

Allah memerintahkan orang beriman supaya bertolong-tolongan dan bekerjasama dalam melakukan perbuatan baik, iaitu perkara kebajikan (al-birr), dan menegah mereka daripada tolong-menolong dalam perkara kebatilan, dan melarang mereka bantu-membantu dan bekerjama dalam perkara haram dan dosa. Ini dijelaskanNya dalam al-Qur’an yang bermaksud:

“Dan tolong-menolonglah kamu dalam (mengerjakan) kebajikan dan takwa, dan jangan tolong-menolong dalam berbuat dosa dan pelanggaran”. (Al-Maidah:  2)

Fokus

Wahai sahabat, fokuskan dirimu kepada menabur bakti. Yang sedang ditimpa bencana perlu dibantu dan disantun. Walaupun kecil bantuanmu ianya tetap memberikan pengharapan. Dapat memujuk hati yang lara. Dapat menenang fikiran yang keliru. Berikan sepenuh fokusmu kepada gerak kerja dan jangan biarkan kecerdasan otakmu menjadikanmu terlalu kritis. Di saat menghantar bantuan, usah ditanya kenapa berlaku bencana ini. Usah dinilai sama ada ianya ujian ataupun hukuman. Usah disoal kenapa pihak berwajib tidak cekap melaksanakan tanggung-jawab. Semua itu boleh dikaji kelak bila pulang ke rumah. Gunakan segala kebolehan untuk menabur bakti kepada yang malang. Empati lebih bernilai di saat ini berbanding analisis. Perbanyakkan amalmu dan ambil iktibar dari apa yang berlaku kerana dalam setiap peristiwa, pasti banyak pengajarannya.

Jaga hatimu

Wahai sahabat, Aku mengajakmu merenung sejenak kepada sabda Rasulullah s.a.w.

Dari Jundub bin Abdullah bin Sufyan r.a. katanya: Nabi s.a.w. bersabda, “Barangsiapa yang memperlihatkan amalannya kerana riya’ maka Allah akan memperlihatkan dan barangsiapa yang berbuat ria’, maka Allah akan menampakkan riya’ itu.” (Muttafaq alaih)

Ingatlah, apa saja yang ada dalam hati, semuanya diketahui oleh Allah s.w.t. dan di akhirat kelak, semua itu akan dinilai. Keikhlasan adalah prasyarat bagi amal untuk diterima Allah. Rugilah orang yang tidak menjaga keikhlasan hati.

Namun, ini tidak sepatutnya menghalang seseorang dari beramal di tengah-tengah masyarakat seperti menghulurkan bantuan ketika bencana, yang sememangnya akan dilihat orang, malah ada kalanya memperkenalkan diri itu adalah amat penting bagi memudahkan perlaksanaan. Malah tidak menjadi isu jika anda dipuji kerana ini juga telah dijelaskan oleh Rasulullah s.a.w.

Dari Abu Zar r.a., katanya: “Rasulullah s.a.w. ditanya: Bagaimanakah pendapat Tuan perihal seseorang lelaki yang mengerjakan suatu amalan yang baik dan ia mendapatkan pujian dari orang ramai kerana amalannya itu?” Beliau s.a.w. lalu bersabda: “Yang sedemikian itulah kegembiraan seorang mu’min yang diterima secara segera – yakni ketika masih di dunia sudah dapat merasakan kenikmatannya. (Riwayat Muslim)

Namun, janganlah pula kita berbangga bila dipuji hingga timbul perasaan ujub yang dikeji. May Allah protect us all from the sins of our hearts and purify our soul so that we’ll continue to progress each day as a better Muslim.

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Siapa Dia Ummatan Wasata

Ramai orang menggunakan istilah ummatan wasata. Tetapi apa yang dimaksudkan oleh mereka, mungkin berbeza-beza. Ada yang mengatakan ianya bermaksud umat yang sederhana, dan sederhana itu juga tidak mempunyai nilai yang absolut. Ianya satu yang relatif. Malah pemahaman terhadap istilah ini mungkin jauh berbeza dan dirangkum dalam julat yang luas dari fahaman hampir liberal sampai ke fahaman yang konservatif.

Firman Allah swt.,

2-143

Dan demikianlah (sebagaimana Kami telah memimpin kamu ke jalan yang lurus), Kami jadikan kamu (wahai umat Muhammad) satu umat yang pilihan lagi adil, supaya kamu layak menjadi orang yang memberi keterangan kepada umat manusia (tentang yang benar dan yang salah) dan Rasulullah (Muhammad) pula akan menjadi orang yang menerangkan kebenaran perbuatan kamu… (Al-baqarah:143)

Petang itu aku mendengar penjelasan dari seorang Sheikh yang menegaskan bahawa istilah ini perlu didefinasi berdasarkan panduan Allah dalam al-Qur’an. Allah swt yang hidupkan kita, Allah swt yang beri rezeki kepada kita, Allah swt juga yang gariskan cara hidup yang perlu diikuti oleh kita seperti yang ditunjukkan oleh Rasulullah saw, dan cara hidup inilah yang membezakan kita dari makhluk-makhluk lain. Wasatiyah Islam dari segi ad-din (agama) adalah berpandukan al-Qur’an, manakala wasatiyah Islam dari segi at-tadayun (beragama) perlu berpandukan kepada as-sunnah sebagaimana yang ditunjukkan oleh Rasulullah saw.

Jadi ummatan wasata itu adalah kelompok manusia yang berpegang kuat kepada Al-Qur’an dan sunnah dalam beragama dan beribadat. Dan Rasulullah saw akan memberi saksi tentang kebenaran ibadat mereka.

Sheikh bertanya, “adakah Rasulullah akan bersaksikan amalan kita jika kita tidak bersungguh-sungguh berpegang kepada al-Qur’an dan sunnah?” Tersentak aku dari lamunan…

Kemudian sheikh itu seolah-olah menampar hatiku apabila dia menyebut bahawa Al-Qur’an itu adalah mukjizat, dan jika diturunkan al-Qur’an itu ke atas gunung, akan hancur gunung-gunung itu. Tetapi jika apabila diturun ke hati manusia, hati itu pula tidak hancur. Kenapa demikian? Kerana tempatnya memang di situ. Al-Qur’an itu tempatnya di hati ! Aku tunduk terdiam. Teringat suatu masa puluhan tahun dahulu ketika aku bersungguh-sungguh cuba menghafaz ayat-ayat al-Qur’an dan saling menyemak hafazan bersama sahabat. Kenapa kesungguhan itu tidak berlaku secara berterusan dari dahulu hingga sekarang? Hatiku berbicara sendirian. Subhanallah, berapa banyak al-qur’an kini ada di hatiku. Astaghfirullah, Wahai Tuhan yang maha pengampun, ampunilah kelalaianku selama ini.

Sheikh menambah lagi bahawa ramai orang membaca al-Qur’an, malah ramai yang membacanya dengan suara dan nada yang merdu. Namun ia tidak cukup menggerunkan syaitan. Yang digeruni oleh syaitan ialah apabila orang itu membaca dan dia memang menjiwai apa yang dibacanya. Yang paling tidak disukai syaitan ialah apabila orang itu membaca al-Quran dan memahami serta menghayati maksudnya. Itulah yang patut dilakukan oleh para umatan wasata.

Untuk merasai al-Qur’an di hati, walaupun kita membaca sejuzuk sehari pun belum pasti kita mendapatnya. Kita perlu memahami maknanya dengan mengkaji kitab-kitab tafsir. Jika ini berlaku, akan berlakulah perubahan dalam interaksi kita dengan al-Qur’an. Dan apabila kita membacanya di dalam solat, dengan suara yang lunak lagi merdu, hati kita akan dapat merasakannya. Bukankah itu yang kita mahukan? Khusyuk dan khuduk di dalam Solat? 

Semoga Allah memberi kekuatan kepada umat Islam hari ini supaya menjadi Ummatan Wasata seperti yang digariskan oleh al-Qur’an dan as-sunnah.

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Old things add values

Years ago when I was still in primary school, I recalled my late aunt sent us to the trishaw rider in Malacca town to be sent home to Bachang, 5 or 6 km away. The weather was nice and the journey was smooth. So we enjoyed the ride while talking and looking around. In those days, trishaw was considered cheap. Since my aunt knew the rider personally, it was safe to send us home in that manner.

Today trishaw ride is only for tourist, at least in Malacca, or perhaps Penang.

Similarly, I remember riding a tuk-tuk in Bangkok in 1995. It was both fun and scary. You could hardly open your eyes because it was dusty. It was ok for me since I wore glasses. But the way the rider maneuvered could easily make you froze, if you don’t have confidence in him. It was cheap, and most importantly it was fast, very effective in dealing with traffic congestion.

Passengers waiting in lines, giving ways to arriving passengers to alight

Bangkok Skytrain – Passengers waiting in lines, giving ways to arriving passengers to alight

But last week, I didn’t see that many tuk-tuk anymore. In fact I was told that tuk-tuk is now more expensive than taxi, much more expensive than the skytrain or metro train that networked the city. It had also evolved into one of the thing on the to-do list of tourists. Note that now Bangkok has an excellent network of mass public transport.

Last year, I had a ride on andoh, a horse cart in Yokyakarta. Once upon a time it was perhaps the means of intercity transportation. Today, it is another fashionable transport for tourists.

What was happening is a normal cycle of life. A commonly used transport evolved into a designer thing for tourists.

Similarly as a car grew older, the price dropped. But then, after a stage, the price started to increase again. It was now a vintage, a fashionable thing for collectors. That’s why when somebody asked me about the price of my 1968 VW Beetle, I said, it has no pricetag, but since I’m not selling it, I won’t know how much I’ll be willing to sell it for.

So, the olds may not be necessarily history, they can continue to have impacts, or even be better.

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Federalism vs regional autonomy – an energy example

2nd AUN-Seed Regional Conference on Energy Engineering

2nd AUN-Seed Regional Conference on Energy Engineering

I had an interesting discussion today with an interesting Professor from Kyushu University. We were having coffee break during the regional conference on energy engineering, a meeting sponsored by JICA, held in Bangkok. So, our trips and accommodation are fully covered by the organizer. The Professor wore a colorful shirt, unlike the rest who were in plain shirt, a neck-tie and a dark blue jacket, a typical outfit for a meeting like this.

We were talking about the Tsunami, Fukushima and its aftermath in terms of energy policy. Post Fukushima disaster had the 35 nuclear power plant in Japan shut down. The effect? Significant increase of energy costs to be absorbed by the government through the energy companies. A small increase in electricity tariff was imposed but the larger portion was absorbed by the companies, I was told. A brave move by the government, with aspiration to provide safety and satisfy the general public’s demand.

But everybody would imagine that such moves won’t be sustainable for long term purposes since Japan had to rely on imported oil and gas to power their power plant. So, the nuclear option has got to be back in action. 

This morning, a speaker told us that come next spring, one of the nuclear power plant in Japan would start operation. So, I asked the Professor with colorful shirt, “how do you decide on which plant to be put in operation?” He then explained the Japanese decision making procedure on this issue. 

Japan has had a tradition of being regionally autonomous and some level of democracy since the old days. So, for a plant to start operation, the company has to negotiate with the local municipality to get their consent. Then they would have to approach the prefecture and get the nod before they can get the permission to operate by the federal agency. Each plant has to go through this process. It is a slow process as it involves many people with many different concerns.

So, there is a significant level of autonomy at various level. Good or bad? Well,… it depends on how you look at it. It definitely slows down the decision making process. It can prolong the financial difficulties.

I wonder how many plants would be in operation within the next two years… The slower they act, the more additional costs would be incurred. Of course, they are also working on other options such as solar, but you would need around 10 solar plant for each nuclear plant of equal size due to availability of sunlight and efficiency of the solar panels.

So, which is better? A strong federalism, or more regional autonomy?

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Right of Way

The taxi Driver & Me

The taxi driver asked me: where are you from?

I said: Malaysia.

He then said:  Is that a place where cars have the right of way? And if you’re not careful, you can get knocked down the road?

I said: Not really, but that can happen. What you need to do is to raise your hand towards the driver to indicate that you’re crossing, he’ll let you go.

He asked: Does it really work?

I said: should be. most of the time.

This conversation was in St John’s where pedestrian really enjoyed the right of way. You can cross the road anywhere you like in the city – cars, busses etc will let you go. The system is about tolerance, discipline and respect, I think. 

The French Guy and Me

Once a french guy told me about the traffic in Hanoi. He said that it took him a while to figure out how the system works. Over there, you can see a father with 3 children on a motorbike speeding through a red light. That’s normal, said he.

Then I asked him, how do you cross the road? He then explained the fact that you just need to walk across the street at constant speed. All those motorcycles will maneuver their ways.

The system is about predictability. Be unpredictable and you’re dead !

Human are irrational, after all…

Yesterday I enjoyed listening to Genserik, a safety professor from Belgium talking about loss aversion.  He opened his talk with this:

Suppose you are offered two options:

(A) You receive 5,000 Euro from me (with certainty); and

(B) We toss a coin. You receive 10,000 Euro from me if it is heads, otherwise (if it is tails), you receive nothing

What will you choose? 

Let’s now consider two different options:

(C) You have to pay 5,000 Euro (with certainty), and;

(D) We toss a coin. You need to pay me 10,000 Euro if the coin  turns up heads, otherwise (if it is tails) you don’t need to pay me anything.

What will you choose?

By far, most people would prefer (A) and (D). Why? That is not logical, right? It is not consistent. But that’s human.

Another guy told us a story that after 9/11 people are scared to travel by air in the USA. The results, data for the following 3 years showed that the number of people got killed increased quite significantly. In fact, statistics show that it is much safet to travel by air than by car ! It took them quite some time to be back to normal.

Yes human is irrational, especially when they are under pressure

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Practice what preach…

Maybe I shouldn’t be writing about this, may be I should.

My last trip to UK revealed something. A professor in Surrey told me about the new thing that is becoming common in UK campus – the Starbucks. He said that around 6 in the evening, research students are either in pubs or starbucks, socializing. Perhaps sharing their successes or failures. Interesting.

Then I asked about people working at night in the labs, is it still common?

I remember in the late 80’s, we would see some students sleeping in their offices or even the labs, with alarm clocks to wake them up to feed their bacteria or to collect data from the fermenters. Those biotech researchers were really something.

And there were also plenty of those owls that worked on their computers through the midnights until the early hours of the day, like me. But now, it is no longer the case. Campuses are darker at nights because stringent procedures are generally enforced in many campuses. Good or bad, it is arguable, but it was the results of more awareness in occupational safety. And it was irony that these principles were taught on campus, only to be implemented in the industry. What? Maybe it was true!

The professor said that a work permit (in one form or another) was now required and the student cannot work alone, they have to have company.

Working in laboratories can be hazardous. Lets go through some anecdotes. In 2010, a graduate student was injured due to explosion in a laboratory in Texas Tech University. The following year in 2011 a 22 year old student found dead in the laboratory with her hair tangled in the lathe machine in Yale.

I can vaguely recall the tragedy in 2002 that killed our own UTM’s student that was drown in the monsoon drain while helping his friend to take water sample, so I heard.

But the landmark case that changed the occupational safety standard in campus laboratories throughout the world may be attributed to the case of Sheri Shangji at UCLA on 29 December 2008. It was a Christmas break.

Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji, a Pakistani born student a recent chemistry graduate took a job as a research assistant at UCLA while waiting for the graduate school to commence. She wanted to study environmental law at UC Berkeley.

One day, while transferring up to 2 ounces of t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another, the plastic syringe came apart in her hands, spewing a chemical compound that ignites when exposed to air.

The rest was history. The fire caught her clothing and she suffered a third degree burn and died 18 days later. Following a long investigation, the LA county filed charges to the professor and UCLA in December 2011, three years after the incident.

In July 2012, the university settled the matter with the court by agreeing to contribute USD500,000 to an endowment fund in the name of Sheri Sangji to provide scholarships for studying Environmental Law at UC Berkeley, and to carry out several other measures to increase safety awareness at UCLA.

Following an arraignment on Sept 5, 2012, Harran, the chemistry professor continues to struggle against the criminal charges against him for allegedly being negligent in ensuring safety in his laboratory. He could be jailed for 4.5 years. He was ordered to trial on April 26, 2013 and the case was concluded with a settlement in June 20, 2014. The verdict? Substantial and multiple forms of community services, plus small fine. Details can be obtained here http://cen.acs.org/articles/92/web/2014/06/Patrick-Harran-L-District-Attorney0.html. The career of the professor was saved.

The family members of Sheri were not happy about the settlement. But the case has many angles that one can argue from.

A lot of questions can be asked on this issue. Should we impose permit to work (PTW) and implement something similar to chemical industry in the university? In the interest of encouraging research and establishing academic excellence at affordable costs, people may differ in opinions on which turn to take – left, right or just go straight ahead. Definitely we don’t want to turn back because “square one” was a history. We don’t want to be back on it.

All in all, regardless of the situation, I believe that the standard of occupational safety in educational institutions – kindergarten, schools, universities – must be examined. We don’t have to wait for a few human sacrifices before making any positive initiative.

Aah… enough talk. Lets go ahead and do something… Lets practice what we preach.

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