SocioTechnical safety Assessment within Risk Regulation Regimes – STARS

The problem addressed

Recent accidents have challenged the ability of regulators to identify and/or influence the sociotechnical trends and risk drivers that increase the level of risk of major undesired events within safety critical systems. They question not only current regulatory practices but also the historical view of the evolution of regulations, regulatory bodies and inspection practices, their adaptation to the interpretative work produced in the aftermath of major events and also their adaptation to the advances in safety thinking.

Topics such as safety culture / climate, organisational factors, MTO, and resilience engineering are all current attempts to move beyond the technically oriented and administrative approaches, but few genuinely integrative applications exist in the field of regulation theory. This may be strongly related to the fact that safety as a particular science is still in its infancy and an abundance of different approaches, methods and tools exists. This makes it challenging for regulators to develop their approaches, as there are no agreed upon and clear foundations to be operationalized. In practical applications, human and technical issues are still usually considered as loosely coupled at best, and safety inspections and auditing is easily reduced to either technical or administrative endeavour. A systemic view with associated methods and tools is missing. This project aims to contribute to this genuine need for an integrative account of the sociotechnical view, an account of its practical and scientific meaning and guidance on how to manage and regulate safety in today’s complex economy.

Keywords: regulation sociotechnical systems

Research questions

The aim of this research project is to contribute both to better understanding of what the sociotechnical view on safety encompasses as well as to foster the implementation of regulatory practices which incorporate sociotechnical dimensions.

These two research questions can be divided as follows:

  1. what is the state of the art on the sociotechnical nature of safety?
  2. what methods, practices and guidelines are currently in use in various regulatory bodies concerning assessment of high risk sociotechnical systems?
  3. how well do these methods, practices and guidelines capture sociotechnical phenomena (such as drift, normalization, climate and social structure)?
  4. what experiences do regulators have concerning sociotechnical phenomena that have safety relevance?
  5. how could the existing methods, practices and guidelines be improved to better capture sociotechnical phenomena?
  6. what is the role of regulation in the sociotechnical paradigm; what are the limits and possibilities of regulation when safety is perceived in a wider sociotechnical view as a system property instead of a technical feature?

The project aims integrate lessons from the so called new view on safety and contemplate their practical implications for regulators.

Keywords: inspection

Scientific disciplines: sociology, chemistry/chemical engineering, political science

Expected outputs

The project is expected to lead to the following outputs:

  • clarifying and showing how different models in the past 20 to 30 years have all attempted to better conceptualise and approach the sociotechnical nature of safety and accidents (Swiss cheese, safety culture, resilience engineering, etc.)
  • empirically illustrating the sociotechnical nature of safety (or accidents) with case studies from different safety critical industries (petroleum, chemical, nuclear) in order to provide a shared background for members of the research project
  • comparing and discussing the practices of the participating regulatory organizations (rules and regulations, auditing and inspection principles, other methods of regulation) in three different domains: petroleum, chemical and nuclear industry
  • producing guidance at an EU-level; one guidebook to be used by regulators in sociotechnical safety inspections of safety critical system and a second guidebook to be used by the industry as well as the regulators in deepening their understanding of the sociotechnical dimension of safety

Keywords: guidebook safety model good practice


The project is structured around 8 tasks, which are outlined below.

  1. Construction of a common study protocol, including a macro level description of the regulatory context in each country and the key variables that are used in the cross-country analysis. The study protocol will guide data collection in each country and each industrial domain; it guarantees that the data collected will be comparable and that the project delivers results that can be applied in multiple domains and countries.
  2. Literature review and collection of methodological evidence: relevant safety literature and accident cases will be reviewed from the perspective of the sociotechnical view on safety. The aim is to integrate several types of evidence ranging from ethnographic studies to accident investigations that shed light on the sociotechnical view on safety. The main results of the literature review will be published in the white paper.
  3. Data collection and case studies in Finland: the work will involve a collaboration with the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority STUK and the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency Tukes.
  4. Data collection and case studies in Norway, adressing the role of offshore risk regulation regimes as a mechanism for preventing major and fatal accidents, and the working environment.
  5. Data collection and case studies in France, in collaboration with Ineris, the regulator for the chemical, petrochemical and gas industries.
  6. Cross-domain and cross-country comparison
  7. Collaboration with external safety science experts
  8. Reporting and utilization of the common results

Associated deliverables

A short summary of project progress, presented at the third SAF€RA symposium organized in Paris in February 2015.

Download deliverable

Participating researchers

Teemu Reiman (Division of Industrial Systems Management , VTT, Technical Research Center of Finland, Finland) — project coordinator

Elina Pietikäinen (Department of organizational psychology, VTT, Technical Research Center of Finland, Finland)

Pia Oedewald (Department of organizational psychology, VTT, Technical Research Center of Finland, Finland)

Jean-Christophe Lecoze (INERIS, France)

Damien Fabre (INERIS, France)

Ludovic Moulin (INERIS, France)

Ole Engen (University of Stavanger, Norway)

Preben Lindøe (University of Stavanger, Norway)

Kenneth Pettersen (University of Stavanger, Norway)

Jacob Kringen (University of Stavanger, Norway)

Funding organizations

INERIS (France)

FonCSI (France)

MEDDE (France)

RCN (Norway)

Tukes (Finland)

More details

Duration 2014-08 to 2016-10
Contact email
More information

Information last updated on 2016-08-26.

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