Managing the Risk of Workplace Stress

By Sharon Clarke; Cary L. Cooper | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Environmental factors and occupational safety

In this chapter, a general overview of the influence of organisational, social and cultural factors on occupational safety is provided. Reason (1993) suggests that there are three overlapping ages of safety concerns: the technical age, where the emphasis was on operational and engineering solutions to hazards; the human error age, which focused upon the human contribution to accidents, particularly the operators at the ‘sharp end’ of organisations; and, most recently, the sociotechnical age, which recognises that accidents emerge as complex interactions between the technical and the human aspects of systems. The ‘human error’ age reflected research into accidents occurring from the 1930s through to the 1980s, where a growing body of evidence suggested that human factors were a major contributory factor in accident involvement. However, much emphasis was placed on the human contribution at the level of the individual operator, who was present at the scene of the accident. The growth in popularity of systems theory within management science, with landmark publications, such as Senge (1990), saw its wider application, including to organisational safety. A number of articles were published in the 1990s emphasising the need to take a systems approach to organisational accidents (e.g. Cox 1994; Reason 1995). In this theoretical perspective, put very simply, the ‘system’ comprises a number of elements and the relationships between those elements. The system is characterised by feedback mechanisms, whereby the behaviour of one element influences the behaviour of other elements. Open systems have permeable boundaries enabling exchanges with the external environment. This perspective extends the scope of factors that may potentially contribute to accidents to all the elements within the system (e.g. operators, supervisors, managers), and the relationships

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