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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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This monograph is a manifesto for the systems-thinking-informed approach to incident and accident investigation. It is in tune with the mission of the Systems-thinking for Safety series – to publish books on systems-thinking that are entertaining, engaging and catholic in their appeal.

The series takes in a wide audience, from sixth-form, high-school and university students to journalists and the informed general reader (the ‘woman on the Clapham omnibus’). Academic concepts are explained.

The monograph demonstrates the universal applicability of the systems-thinking-informed approach, from marine accident investigation to understanding the social, economic and political origins of a deadly tower block fire.

Systems-thinking for Safety: A short introduction to the theory and practice of systems-thinking is unoriginal and original. Unoriginal because it stands on the shoulders of giants – Elwyn Edwards, Barry Turner, Bruno Latour, John Law, Steven Woolgar, Charles Perrow, Erik Hollnagel, Diane Vaughan, James Reason and other luminaries of the world of letters. Original because it is populist. The Peter Lang series Systems-thinking for Safety provides a mechanism for popularising the work of thinkers. This will help make the world a safer place.

The monograph commences with a discussion about the origins and nature of the systems-thinking approach to risk assessment and management. The discussion includes a review of actor-network theory (ANT), a powerful but under-used device for explaining how the world works.

To demonstrate that systems-thinking can be a force for good and to engage the reader, the bulk...

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