Cognition, Technology & Work

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 87–93

“Those found responsible have been sacked”: some observations on the usefulness of error

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10111-010-0149-0

Cite this article as:
Cook, R.I. & Nemeth, C.P. Cogn Tech Work (2010) 12: 87. doi:10.1007/s10111-010-0149-0


Erik Hollnagel’s body of work in the past three decades has molded much of the current research approach to system safety, particularly notions of “error”. Hollnagel regards “error” as a dead-end and avoids using the term. This position is consistent with Rasmussen’s claim that there is no scientifically stable category of human performance that can be described as “error”. While this systems view is undoubtedly correct, “error” persists. Organizations, especially formal business, political, and regulatory structures, use “error” as if it were a stable category of human performance. They apply the term to performances associated with undesired outcomes, tabulate occurrences of “error”, and justify control and sanctions through “error”. Although a compelling argument can be made for Hollnagel’s view, it is clear that notions of “error” are socially and organizationally productive. The persistence of “error” in management and regulatory circles reflects its value as a means for social control.


Error Investigation Cognition Healthcare Hollnagel 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anesthesiology and Critical CareThe University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Klein Associates DivisionApplied Research Associates, Inc.FairbornUSA

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