“Those found responsible have been sacked”: some observations on the usefulness of error
- First Online:
- Cite this article as:
- Cook, R.I. & Nemeth, C.P. Cogn Tech Work (2010) 12: 87. doi:10.1007/s10111-010-0149-0
- 295 Downloads
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.