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Assessing Contemporary Crises: Aligning Safety Science and Security Studies  

Bibi van den Berg, Ruth Prins, and Sanneke Kuipers

Security and safety are key topics of concern in the globalized and interconnected world. While the terms “safety” and “security” are often used interchangeably in everyday life, in academia, security is mostly studied in the social sciences, while safety is predominantly studied in the natural sciences, engineering, and medicine. However, developments and incidents that negatively affect society increasingly contain both safety and security aspects. Therefore, an integrated perspective on security and safety is beneficial. Such a perspective studies hazardous and harmful events and phenomena in the full breadth of their complexity—including the cause of the event, the target that is harmed, and whether the harm is direct or indirect. This leads to a richer understanding of the nature of incidents and the effects they may have on individuals, collectives, societies, nation-states, and the world at large.

Article

Crisis Development: Normal Accidents and Beyond  

Jean-Christophe Le Coze

Our current era is one of profound changes and uncertainties, and one issue is to understand their implications for high-risk systems and critical infrastructures (e.g., nuclear power plants, ships, hospitals, trains, chemical plants). Normal Accidents (NA), Perrow’s classic published in 1984, is a useful guide to explore the contemporary epoch, in the third decade of the 21st century. One reason is that this landmark book has triggered a sustained interest by scholars who have debated, challenged, rejected, refined, or expanded its core thesis over almost now 40 years. With La Porte’s, Sagan’s, Vaughan’s, and Hopkins’s contributions into what can be described as the “standard NA debate” in the late 20th century and the more recent “new controversies and debates” by Downer, Pritchard, or Le Coze in the early 21st century, the book can still resonate with current changes in the 2020s. These changes include phenomena as large, massive, intertwined, consequential, and diverse as the advent of internet and of digital societies, the increase of transnational flows of diverse nature (people, data, capital, images, goods) and the ecological crisis captured by a notion such as the Anthropocene. Taking stock, historicizing, and revisiting NA with such debates and changes in mind leads to characterize a post-NA narrative.

Article

Maintaining Resilience in Times of Crisis: Insights From High-Reliability Organizations  

Tiffany M. Bisbey, Molly P. Kilcullen, and Eduardo Salas

In the tumultuous and unprecedented times of the 21st century, resilience is more important than ever for organizational success. High-reliability organizations (HROs) are known for their ability to operate effectively in high-risk contexts by preventing avoidable crises and maintaining resilience when challenges arise. In the psychology literature, resilience is the phenomenon of overcoming adversity with minimal negative impact to performance and well-being. Although the study of psychological resilience began at the individual level, researchers are beginning to adopt a multilevel perspective of the construct that accounts for resilience at the team and organizational levels. While the science of HROs has been studied for several decades, research on psychological resilience in the workplace has only just begun to flourish by comparison. There are many lessons for creating and maintaining resilience that can be learned from the successful practice of HROs. HROs have systems of layered defenses in place that allow the organization to prevent precluded events and overcome the potential negative impact of adverse conditions and near misses. Organizations that conduct work in high-risk contexts may be able to model the success of HROs by keeping learning foremost, investing time and resources into team training, supporting a climate of psychological safety, coaching employees to keep performance objectives in focus, and practicing systems thinking and accounting for complexity in resource allocation. Maintaining resilience is not a duty outlined in a formal job description, yet it is undoubtedly important for enabling effective high-risk work. Going above and beyond the formal definition of roles may be the only route to effectiveness in these organizations.

Article

Food Safety Policy: Transnational, Hybrid, Wicked  

Eva Thomann

According to the World Health Organization, between 2010 and 2015 there were an estimated 582 million cases of 22 different foodborne enteric diseases. Over 40% people suffering from enteric diseases caused by contaminated food were children aged under five years. Highly industrialized livestock production processes have brought along antibiotic resistances that could soon result in an era in which common infections and minor injuries that have been treatable for decades can once again kill. Unsafe food also poses major economic risks. For example, Germany’s E. coli outbreak in 2011 reportedly caused US$1.3 billion in losses for farmers and industries. Food safety policy ensures that food does not endanger human health—along the entire food chain through which food is produced, stored, transported, processed, and prepared. In an interdependent world of globalized trade and health risks, food safety is an extraordinarily complex policy issue situated at the intersection of trade, agricultural, and health policies. Although traditionally considered a domestic issue, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and other major food safety crises before and around the turn of the millennium highlighted the need for transnational regulation and coordination to ensure food safety in regional and global markets. As a result, food safety has received ample scholarly attention as a critical case of the transboundary regulation of often uncertain risks. The global architecture of food production also gives food safety policy an international and interactive character. Some countries or regions, for example, the European Union, act as standard setters, whereas newly industrialized countries, such as China, struggle to “do their homework,” and the poorest regions of the world strive for market access. Although national regulatory approaches differ considerably in the degree to which they rely on self-regulation by the market, overall, the sheer extent of the underlying policy problem makes it impossible to tackle food safety solely through public regulation. Therefore, private regulation and co-regulation play an influential role in the standard setting, implementation, and enforcement of food safety policy. The entanglement of several interrelated policy sectors, the need for coordination and action at multiple—global, regional, national, local—levels, and the involvement of actors from the public and private, for-profit and nonprofit fields, are the reasons why the governance of food safety policy is characterized by considerable hybridity and also requires both vertical and horizontal policy integration. Scholarship has increasingly scrutinized how the resulting multiple, sometimes conflicting, actor rationalities and the overlap of several regulatory roles affect effectiveness and legitimacy in the decision-making and implementation of food safety policy. By highlighting issues such as regulatory capture and deficient enforcement systems, this research suggests another implication of the hybridization of food safety governance, namely, that the latter increasingly shares the characteristics of a wicked problem. Next to complexity and both high and notoriously uncertain risks, the multiple actors involved often diverge in their very definitions of the problem and strategic intentions. The major task ahead lies in designing recipes for integrated, context-sensitive, and resilient policy responses.