Learning from incidents


Courtesy of Courtesy of Energy Institute (EI)

Effective learning from incidents (LFI) is critical for employees’ safety and environmental protection. Yet little is known about what constitutes ‘effective’ LFI and how to achieve it. Here, Glasgow Caledonian University’s Anoush Margaryan and Allison Littlejohn, and the Energy Institute’s Stuart King, explain.

Learning from incidents (LFI) is important across a range of industries and is relevant for professional and government bodies and third-sector organisations concerned about health and safety. Industrial incidents cause injury, loss of life and environmental degradation – of particular concern to major hazard industries like the energy industry. However, after incident investigation has taken place, LFI initiatives tend to focus too much on the dissemination of information, assuming that access to incident-related information will lead to organisational learning and behavioural change. Yet research into adult learning demonstrates that access to information does not necessarily lead to learning. To learn effectively, people and organisations must have opportunities for reflection and making sense of information by relating and integrating it within their everyday work context. LFI initiatives in organisations seldom integrate reflection and sense-making opportunities.

A key problemis that LFI has been limited to safety science and engineering. Theories and insights from adult learning and other relevant social sciences have seldom been applied to LFI. Also, integration of research and practice in LFI has been poor. To improve our understanding of LFI, an interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral approach bringing together scholars from relevant disciplines with stakeholders from the industry, professional bodies and the government is critical.

To address these gaps, an international seminar series – ‘Inter-disciplinary perspectives on learning from incidents’ – is currently being organised. The first of its kind in the world, the series brings together practitioners and policymakers with scholars from a range of disciplines to provide new learning approaches and change methods that can be applied by organisations to improve health and safety across a range of industries. The seminar series is led by the Caledonian Academy, a research centre for Technology-enhanced Professional Learning at Glasgow Caledonian University (http://www.gcu.ac.uk/academy/), in collaboration with scholars from the universities of Aberdeen, Southampton, Edinburgh and Loughborough (UK), Trento (Italy), Helsinki (Finland), and Valencia (Spain), as well as stakeholders from the private and public sectors including senior representatives from the UK’s Energy Institute, the British Safety Council and the Health and Safety Executive. These people represent a range of disciplines spanning adult and organisational learning, sociology, industrial psychology and human factors engineering. Businesses represented within the seminars come from the energy, construction, transport, healthcare and finance sectors and include BP, ConocoPhillips, Costain Group, E.ON, Phillips66, Pinsent Masons and TC Global.

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