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Systems-thinking for Safety

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

Series:

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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Preface

Extract



In a paper titled Advancing socio-technical systems thinking: A call for bravery, Davis, Challenger, Jayewardene and Clegg (2014: 171) observed: ‘Whilst [socio-technical systems thinking] has made an impact, we argue that we need to be braver, encouraging the approach to evolve and extend its reach. In particular, we need to: extend our conceptualization of what constitutes a system [and] apply our thinking to a much wider range of complex problems’. This is my contribution to Davis, Challenger, Jayewardene and Clegg’s call-to-arms.

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