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Systems-thinking for Safety

A short introduction to the theory and practice of systems-thinking.


Simon A Bennett

A manifesto for the systems-thinking-informed approach to incident and accident investigation, this accessible text is aimed at experts and generalists. A Glossary of Terms explains key concepts.


The premise is both unoriginal and original. Unoriginal, because it stands on the shoulders of systems-thinking pioneers – Barry Turner, Bruno Latour, Charles Perrow, Erik Hollnagel, Diane Vaughan and other luminaries. Original, because it is populist: The Systems-thinking for Safety series shows how theoretical insights can help make the world a safer place. Potentially, the series as a whole, and this manifesto text, have agency.


True to its mission to affect change, the book uses case studies to demonstrate how systems-thinking can help stakeholders learn from incidents, accidents and near-misses. The case studies of, for example, the Piper Alpha and Deepwater Horizon offshore disasters, the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the United States Navy collisions and the Grenfell Tower fire, demonstrate the universal applicability of systems-thinking. The manifesto argues that the systems-thinking informed approach to incident, accident and near-miss investigation, while resource intensive and effortful, produces tangible safety benefits and, by ensuring that «right is done», delivers justice and closure.

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About the author(s)/editor(s)


The author reads sociology with psychology and directs the Civil Safety and Security Unit at the University of Leicester, England. His publications include How Pilots Live (Peter Lang), Aviation Safety and Security: The importance of Teamwork, Leadership, Creative Thinking and Active Learning and Innovative Thinking in Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management. An aviation human factors specialist, he has spent circa 1,500 hours on the jump-seat and 200 hours on the ramp. Simon Bennett has observed: 232 A319- operated sectors; sixty-six A320-operated sectors; sixty-two A321-operated sectors; 138 B737-operated sectors; 181 B757-operated sectors; and seven A300-operated sectors. He has observed eighteen EC135 police helicopter sorties (flying time: 792 minutes). The author has completed a gliding course; landed a 737-300 simulator; undergone Safety and Emergency Procedures (SEP) training on several types, including the A319, B737 and B747-800; trained flight-crew in fatigue-risk management and supported a B757 Line Operations Safety Audit.

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