Developments in the safety science domain, in the fields of general and safety management between 1970 and 1979, the year of the near disaster on Three Mile Island, a literature review

Paul Swuste, Coen van Gulijk, Walter Zwaard, Saul Lemkowitz, Yvette Oostendorp, Jop Groeneweg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

17 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Objective: What influence has research conducted by general management schools and safety research had upon the causes of accidents and disasters in relation to the managing of safety between 1970 and 1979? Method: The study was confined to original articles and documents, written in English or Dutch from the period under consideration. For the Netherlands, the professional journal De Veiligheid (Safety) was consulted. Results and conclusions: Dominant management approaches started with (1) classical management starting from the 19th century incorporating as a main component scientific management from the early 20th century. The interwar period saw the rise of (2) behavioural management which was based on behaviourism, this was followed by (3) quantitative management from the Second World War onwards. After the war it was (4) modern management that became important. A company was seen as an open system, interacting with an external environment with external stakeholders. These management schools of thought were not exclusive, but existed side by side in the period under consideration.Early in the 20th century, it was the U.S. 'Safety First' movement that marked the starting point of this knowledge development in the sphere of safety managing, with cost reduction and production efficiency as the key drivers. Psychological models and metaphors were used to explain accidents resulting from 'unsafe acts'. Safety was managed by training and targeting reckless workers, all in line with scientific management. Supported by behavioural management, this approach remained dominant for many years until long after World War II.Influenced by quantitative management, potential and actual disasters occurring after the war led to two approaches; loss prevention (up-scaling in the process industry) and reliability engineering (inherently dangerous processes in the aerospace and nuclear sectors). The distinction between process safety and occupational safety became clear after the war when the two evolved as relatively independent domains.In occupational safety in the 1970s human error was thought to be symptomatic of mismanagement. The term 'safety management' was introduced to scientific safety literature alongside concepts such as loosely and tightly coupled processes, organizational culture, disaster incubation and the notion of mechanisms blinding organizations to portents of disaster scenarios. Loss prevention remained technically oriented. Until 1979 there was no clear link with safety management. Reliability engineering that was based on systems theory did have such a connection with the MORT technique that served as a management audit. The Netherlands mainly followed Anglo-Saxon developments. In the late 1970s, following international safety symposia in The Hague and Delft, independent research finally began in the Netherlands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-26
Number of pages17
JournalSafety Science
Volume86
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016

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