I want to believe: some myths about the management of industrial safety

Research paper by Denis Besnard, Erik Hollnagel

Indexed on: 10 Jul '12Published on: 10 Jul '12Published in: Cognition, Technology & Work


There are many definitions of safety, but most of them are variations on the theme that safety can be measured by the number of adverse outcomes and must be enforced by using more of the same safety measures (e.g. more procedures). What the industry thinks safety is and how it can be achieved are both questionable. This article looks at six safety-related assumptions, or safety myths, which can be found across most industry practices. These myths are related to human error, procedure compliance, protection and safety, root causes, accident investigation and ‘safety first’. We argue that while relying on such myths makes safety management easier, they also make it flawed and ineffective. Therefore, we propose a critical discussion leading to a set of managerial messages. In this paper, we present the six myths in sequence and then discard them through the analysis of various industrial examples. We then replace the myths with six clearer statements in order to build an alternative view of safety.