Editorial: Learning from Incidents

Stanton, Neville A.; Margaryan, Anoush and Littlejohn, Allison (2017). Editorial: Learning from Incidents. Safety Science: Special Issue on Learning From Incidents, 99(A) pp. 1–4.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2017.07.011

Abstract

Industrial incidents cause injury, loss of life, loss of equipment, productivity, reputations and environmental degradation. Organisations spend large sums of money on improving safety, yet major accidents still occur. Recent major incidents include Santiago de Compostela train derailment (2013), the Fukushima Nuclear Accident in Japan (2011) and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (2010). Incident investigations have identified a common factor: the inability of organisations to learn from incidents (Cooke et al, 2006; Turner, 1978). Effective learning from incidents (LFI) is, therefore, critical for worker safety, organization survival and environmental protection (Lindberg et al, 2010).

Yet little is known about what constitutes ‘effective’ LFI and how to achieve it. LFI initiatives have largely focused on the dissemination of information (Cooke et al, 2006), e.g., through safety-related circulars. The premise is that making incident-related information available to workers brings about the learning and behavioural changes required to improve safety. Yet research in adult learning shows that access to information does not necessarily lead to learning and collective behavioural change (Smith et al, 2008). Learning requires opportunities for reflection and sensemaking (Sanne, 2008), yet LFI initiatives seldom integrate these (Gherardi et al, 2000; Gordon, 2008; Macrae, 2008). There is an urgent need to reconceptualise LFI, moving beyond the ‘learning as information acquisition’ paradigm, towards learning as collective sensemaking, reflection on, and change in, practice and continuous knowledge flow in organistions.

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