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A cognitive approach to safe violations

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Denis Besnard, Dr David Greathead



Classically, humans have been perceived as a source of faults in systems. Modern ergonomic views are promoting a somewhat different idea according to which humans are a factor of safety in unexpected situations. The safety of a system cannot be achieved without taking into account these two sides of cognition which compose what is called cognitive flexibility. In this paper, we will consider the cases of a nuclear accident and a plane crash-landing where human cognitive flexibility has impacted on the final safety of the system. We aim to discuss the violations that humans have performed in these cases with the assumption that they do not always deteriorate system safety. The discussion gravitates around a core argument according to which violations per se do not inform on the safety impairments in a system. Some other dimensions have to be taken into account. Among these, we are of the opinion that the accuracy of the operators’ mental model plays a key role, allowing some violations to improve system safety in emergency situations.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Besnard D, Greathead D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Cognition, Technology & Work

Year: 2003

Volume: 5

Issue: 4

Pages: 272-282

Print publication date: 01/12/2003

Date deposited: 14/02/2011

ISSN (print): 1435-5558

ISSN (electronic): 1435-5566

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s10111-003-0131-1


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