1st Edition

Foundations of Safety Science A Century of Understanding Accidents and Disasters

By Sidney Dekker Copyright 2019
    468 Pages 16 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    468 Pages 16 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

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    How are today’s ‘hearts and minds’ programs linked to a late-19th century definition of human factors as people’s moral and mental deficits? What do Heinrich’s ‘unsafe acts’ from the 1930’s have in common with the Swiss cheese model of the early 1990’s? Why was the reinvention of human factors in the 1940’s such an important event in the development of safety thinking? What makes many of our current systems so complex and impervious to Tayloristic safety interventions? ‘Foundations of Safety Science’ covers the origins of major schools of safety thinking, and traces the heritage and interlinkages of the ideas that make up safety science today.


    • Offers a comprehensive overview of the theoretical foundations of safety science
    • Provides balanced treatment of approaches since the early 20th century, showing interlinkages and cross-connections
    • Includes an overview and key points at the beginning of each chapter and study questions at the end to support teaching use
    • Uses an accessible style, using technical language where necessary
    • Concentrates on the philosophical and historical traditions and assumptions that underlie all safety approaches

    The 1900s and Onward: Beginnings. The 1910s and Onward: Taylor and Proceduralization. The 1920s and Onward: Accident-Prone. The 1930s and Onward: Heinrich and Behavior-Based Safety. The 1940s and Onward: Human Factors and Cognitive Systems Engineering. The 1950s, 1960s and Onward: System Safety. The 1970s and Onward: Man-Made Disasters. The 1980s and Onward: Normal Accidents and High Reliability Organizations. The 1990s and Onward: Swiss Cheese and Safety Management Systems. The 2000s and Onward: Safety Culture. The 2010s and Onward: Resilience Engineering. Postscript.


    Sidney Dekker (PhD Ohio State University, USA, 1996) is professor of social science at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, where he runs the Safety Science Innovation Lab. He is also Professor (Hon.) of psychology at The University of Queensland, and Professor (Hon.) of human factors and patient safety at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. Previously, he was Professor of human factors and system safety at Lund University in Sweden. After becoming full professor, he learned to fly the Boeing 737, and worked part-time as an airline pilot out of Copenhagen. He is author of, most recently: The End of Heaven: Disaster and Suffering in a Scientific Age (2017); Just Culture: Restoring Trust and Accountability in Your Organization (2016); Safety Differently (2015); The Field Guide to Understanding ‘Human Error’ (2014); Second Victim (2013); Drift into Failure (2011); Patient Safety (2011). More at sidneydekker.com

    "In his new book Foundations of Safety Science, Sidney Dekker provides an exposition of the science of safety that paves the way for OHS to enhance its recognition as a profession. Taking each decade from the 1900s through to the 2010s he examines the safety theories of the time, how they interact and how they are reflected in practice then and now. In Sidney’s inimitable way he challenges our thinking but this book is different to his other books.

    This book, I believe can be a watershed in the development and recognition of safety as a (social) science and as a profession. I encourage all OHS professionals and practitioners, OHS educators and students as well as those involved in OHS policy-making and OHS regulation to read it and then re-read it."

    - Pam Pryor AO, OHS Body of Knowledge


    "Foundations of Safety Science is more of a textbook and primer written for tertiary students and safety practitioners. Dekker, ever the renaissance man, illustrates key points with his own cartoons."

    - OHS Professional Magazine, September 2019 issue


    "Professor Dekker has organised the content into ‘time slices’, with each chapter founded on the ideas of a particular era (which works out to be roughly a decade)."

    - Jacky Steemson, The RoSPA OS&H Journal, February 2020 issue

    "Dekker writes that his motivation for the book was to increase the literacy of safety practitioners, so they better understand the origins of their practice - for better and for worse - and so become less susceptible to the next snake oil salesperson slithering under the door with the latest nifty idea.

    He outlines each theory or movement alongside critical commentary, including Heinrich and his unfortunately influential triangle, human factors, management systems, High Reliability Organisation theory, the iconic Swiss Cheese model, and the slippery notion of safety culture. "

    -Peter Bateman, Safeguard, May/June 2020 issue