Tryg Forsikring


Research methods

Human and organizational opportunities and challenges in an IO context

Individuals, groups, and organizations influence safety in several ways, e.g., through how they maintain and operate technological systems, and through their capacity to handle contingencies. An extensive body of research exists concerning human-machine interaction at the individual level. Sociologically oriented researchers have proposed theories that link accident risk to the structural properties of organisations1, theories that explain outstanding safety performance in complex systems,2 and theories that explain major accidents in terms of organizational information processing deficiencies. Human and organizational factors, as causes or contributing factors in accidents, have generally received more attention than human and organizational factors as contributors to system resilience. In this research activity, we aim to give human and organizational contributions to resilience at least the same attention as human and organizational contributions to failures and accidents.

Vulnerabilities, as well as resilience, often arise from interactions between socio-technical system levels. For instance, a decision to deregulate operations in a country may have impacts on the political level (e.g., increased media attention to safety), the inter-organizational level (e.g., increased competition), the organizational level (e.g. reduced economic margins, outsourcing of activities), and to the levels of work-groups, individuals and hardware. Thus, the processes that create vulnerabilities and resilience cut across traditional disciplinary barriers, such as those between political science, sociology, psychology and engineering. Only a few attempts at multi-level analyses, e.g., explaining a single accident by integrating phenomena at the individual, group and organisational level, are found in the research literature. In this research activity, multi-level approaches will be prioritised.

It must be assumed that in a future environment based on networking and a high degree of model-based automation, as well as informed operators, the information flow to and between operators will be structured and mediated through information and communication technology. Both safety and security issues and concerns will have influence on the information flow. Networked operators in new “virtualized” and “abstracted” cooperation patterns will experience new conditions for decision making, sense-making and intervention. This calls for a deeper understanding of a number of new vulnerabilities, in which, e.g., security regulations may hamper safety issues, and for the development of design principles to strike a good balance between different concerns.

The process by which companies develop new operational environments constitutes an important research topic. It should not be taken for granted that all environments are developed through a highly structured iterative development process characterised by distinct phases. The project will evaluate various development projects to assess the merits of these alternative processes with regard to the HSE management. The project will also consider whether different development processes call for different approaches to HSE management.

Project activities to accomplish these different project objectives are described in Work Packages onetwo and three.

Risk monitoring

Major accidents are rare and usually come as a big surprise. This is the common reaction immediately after the events. In hindsight, however, this view changes. Most major accidents are then characterized as “accidents waiting to occur”. Our goal is to unveil this wisdom before accidents occur, and prevent them from occurring. This implies a line of actions that may be seen as a paradox. Major accidents are so rare that we forget to be afraid of an accident. Thus, we do not feel unease, we become complacent, and we loose our vigilance. This vigilance, however, is essential because without it we loose overview of the major accident potential and status. “If eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, then chronic unease is the price of safety”.
In the petroleum industry focus has been given to risk assessment using scenario-based methods that e.g., define barriers in barrier block diagrams or in other types of event trees that model the functionality of safety systems. These methods then typically model which barrier functions that should not be broken in order to not reach one or several predefined situations of hazard and accidents (DFU, “Definerte Fare- og Ulykkes-situasjoner”). These methods are needed and useful, but need a complement for situations that do not fit into the predefined barriers or event sequences. Especially, depending on the type of DFU, it may be very difficult to predefine all needed sequences. One alternative to the predefined barriers in event sequences strategy is a concept called “mindful safety practices”.9 The point is that safety and HSE should combine detailed risk assessment with a more holistic method, which can model and evaluate the safety across events and barriers that need to be predefined. This latter approach is proposed here, and it gives an invaluable complement to the more detailed scenario-based methods.

Project activities to accomplish these different project objectives are described in Work Package four.

Published June 28, 2007

Building Safety in Petroleum Exploration and Production in the Northern Regions