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The deepwater horizon explosion: non-technical skills, safety culture, and system complexity

Reader, Tom W. and O'Connor, Paul (2014) The deepwater horizon explosion: non-technical skills, safety culture, and system complexity. Journal of Risk Research, 17 (3). pp. 405-424. ISSN 1366-9877

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Identification Number: 10.1080/13669877.2013.815652


The explosion and destruction of the Deepwater Horizon (DH) was a watershed moment for safety management in the US oil and gas industry. The 2011 National Oil Spill Commission investigation identified a range of operational behaviours and underlying safety management problems that were causal to the mishap. Yet, to date these have not been systematically considered within a human factors framework. To achieve this, we draw upon two applied psychology domains that are highly influential within safety research. First, we apply non-technical skills (NTS) (social and cognitive skills that underpin safe performance in complex work environments) theorem to understand operational activities in the lead-up and occurrence of the well blowout. NTS research is used to develop interventions for training and observing safety behaviours (e.g. decision-making, teamwork). Second, we apply safety culture theory to understand how the organisational and industry environment shaped the management of risk. Safety culture research is used to understand and change the socio-technical constraints and enablers of safety activity in high-risk workplaces. Finally, to integrate these perspectives, we take a systems-thinking perspective to understand the mishap. A common critique of accident narratives is their failure to systematically consider how the components of an incident interact together to escalate risk. From a systems-thinking perspective, understanding the interactions leading to the DH mishap is crucial for ensuring interventions are effective in preventing future mishaps. We develop an accident model that captures the various interactions and system factors leading to the blowout.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2013 Taylor & Francis
Divisions: Psychological and Behavioural Science
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD61 Risk Management
Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2013 14:56
Last Modified: 20 Aug 2021 01:58

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