This succinct but absorbing book covers the main way stations on James Reason’s 40-year journey in pursuit of the nature and varieties of human error. In it he presents an engrossing and very personal perspective, offering the reader exceptional insights, wisdom and wit as only James Reason can. The journey begins with a bizarre absent-minded action slip committed by Professor Reason in the early 1970s - putting cat food into the teapot - and continues up to the present day, conveying his unique perceptions into a variety of major accidents that have shaped his thinking about unsafe acts and latent conditions. A Life in Error charts the development of his seminal and hugely influential work from its original focus into individual cognitive psychology through the broadening of scope to embrace social, organizational and systemic issues. The voyage recounted is both hugely entertaining and educational, imparting a real sense of how James Reason’s ground-breaking theories changed the way we think about human error, and why he is held in such esteem around the world wherever humans interact with technological systems. This book is essential reading for students, academics and safety professionals of all kinds who are interested in avoiding breakdowns that can cause serious damage to people, assets and the environment.
James Reason was Professor of Psychology at the University of Manchester from 1977 until 2001, from where he graduated in 1962. He has written books on motion sickness, absent-mindedness, human error, aviation human factors, managing the risks of organizational accidents, managing maintenance errors, and the human contribution: unsafe acts, accidents and heroic recoveries. He has worked in a wide variety of hazardous industries, though patient safety is now his primary concern. In 2003, he was awarded an honorary DSc by the University of Aberdeen. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, the Royal Aeronautical Society, the British Academy and the Royal College of General Practitioners. He received a CBE in 2003 for his services to reducing the risks in health care. In 2010, he received an Award for Distinguished Service from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and in 2011 was elected an honorary fellow of the Safety and Reliability Society.
’This book is an authoritative reminder of the journey to gain acceptance of human error as intrinsic to open systems operations as we enjoy it today, portrayed by the witty pen of one of its topmost trailblazers. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and found the segment on organizational accidents a particular gem.’ Daniel E. Maurino, formerly Coordinator of the Flight Safety and Human Factors Study Programme, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) ’A fascinating personal and intellectual journey showing the evolution of both James Reason’s personal approach and also the broader history of thinking on error and safety. He has a unique gift for making complex ideas accessible within an absorbing and lucid narrative. And all leavened with wonderful examples of human error and some great stories.’ Charles Vincent, Imperial College London, UK ’Reason’s new book is a master class on human error: a concise tour of his career explaining how mistakes can occur. It is a pleasure to accompany him while he presents his favourite and often funny accounts of fallibility, tempered with insights on the resulting risks and how they can be mitigated. Highly recommended as a taster text or a refresher course on error.’ Rhona Flin, University of Aberdeen, UK ’Each chapter of this book tells a story where Reason personally confronted a puzzle about accidents, human performance, or organizational decisions. Together the stories build a comprehensive picture of how safety is created but sometime undermined.’ David D. Woods, Ohio State University, USA ’In this delightful memoir, Jim Reason provides an amazingly comprehensive and understandable explanation of how and why individuals and organizations make mistakes and what to do about it. A valuable review for experts and a perfect introduction for beginners.’ Lucian Leape, Harvard University, USA ’This book is like a personal and intimate trip through the ideas that pioneered human error and industri