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Safety barriers: Organizational potential and forces of psychology

Abstract

Safety barriers are often described as a safety function realized in terms of technical, operational and organizational barrier elements. These elements, in some shape or configuration are established to ensure that the barrier works as intended.

While technical and operational barrier elements appear fairly definable, the organizational barrier element often remains elusive. An appealing solution oriented strategy is probably to urge for a clear-cut categorization of what applies as ‘organization’. This tactic may contribute to a tidy method with respect to barrier categorization. However, the question remains whether it is possible or desirable to confine the organizational influences to categorical classifications?

The aim of this paper is to address this question by examining the run-up to the Macondo blowout from a barrier element perspective.

Hopkins' (2012) analysis of the Macondo blowout is applied to identify patterns of organizational impact in three of the pre-blowout defenses: The cement job, the well integrity test, and the kick monitoring.

By re-analyzing Hopkins' study from a barrier element perspective we argue that the organizational impact may morph and change in nature, be contagious and spread across barriers, and travel long distances. The implication is a need to rethink the impact of organizational barrier elements. Part of this rethinking involves acknowledging the impact of psychological mechanisms like consensus-mode decision-making, confirmation bias, normalization of warnings, groupthink as well as social forces of power and persuasion. It is shown how such psychological forces may serve as ‘transmitters’ of organizational principles, strategies and decisions throughout the barrier system. In turn, this may contribute to risk transfer, and dependence between barriers.

Category

Academic article

Language

English

Author(s)

Affiliation

  • SINTEF Digital / Software Engineering, Safety and Security

Year

2014

Published in

Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries

ISSN

0950-4230

Publisher

Elsevier

Volume

31

Issue

1

Page(s)

50 - 55

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