Sociotechnical aspects in safety regulation in the high-risk industries

Marja Ylönen, Ole Engen

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference article in proceedingsScientificpeer-review


    The objective of the paper is to gain understanding of regulatory regimes and sociotechnical aspects in safety regulation in three high-risk industries - nuclear, petroleum and chemical industry. The paper draws on studies on regulation and safety (Hollnagel 2014). Changes in the regulatory realities involved a gradual shift from a state centred command and control type of regulation towards more decentred one. Decentred regulation entails complexity and fragmentation of knowledge. As no single actor has adequate knowledge to regulate and improve safety, cooperation is required. Yet, from the regulatory point of view, a challenge is to get different, relatively autonomous actors with their own interests and priorities, to commit themselves to working for safety, and to get them to act in a coordinated way. Moreover, new safety paradigm that sees safety as an emergent phenomenon and by-product of several technical and social structures, processes and activities in an organisation, and between organisations, challenges traditional ways to govern safety. How is sociotechnical thinking manifested in safety regulation of high-risk industries? What are the differences and similarities between the regulatory regimes? The data consists of interviews with professionals from the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority from Finland (STUK), Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (TUKES) and Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA). In addition, data includes documents concerning safety requirements. Method of analysis is content analysis (Krippendorf 2004). Tentative findings show that despite some differences between the regimes, there are lot of similarities at the regime level. With regard to sociotechnical aspects, concrete practices reveal more than the regime level. Findings show that regulatory bodies and high-risk industries have adopted sociotechnical thinking e.g. by emphasising the need to understand overall safety or by incorporating several stakeholders in safety discussions. In addition, the study shows differences in the ways self-regulation was implemented and reflected upon by the inspectors. Moreover, economic hard times provide challenges both to traditional and sociotechnical ways to deal with safety. Comparison between the regimes and practices provides material for reflecting upon different practices, and hence, reference points for learning.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationRisk, Reliability and Safety
    Subtitle of host publicationInnovating Theory and Practice: Proceedings of ESREL 2016 (Glasgow, Scotland, 25-29 September 2016)
    EditorsLesley Walls, Matthew Revie, Tim Bedford
    PublisherCRC Press
    ISBN (Electronic)978-1-315-37498-7
    ISBN (Print)978-1-138-02997-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2016
    MoE publication typeA4 Article in a conference publication
    Event26th European Safety and Reliability Conference, ESREL 2016 - Glasgow, United Kingdom
    Duration: 25 Sept 201629 Sept 2016


    Conference26th European Safety and Reliability Conference, ESREL 2016
    Abbreviated titleESREL 2016
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


    • accident prevention
    • chemical industry
    • petroleum industry
    • reliability
    • reliability theory
    • command and control
    • emergent phenomenon
    • method of analysis
    • regulatory bodies
    • regulatory regime
    • safety regulations
    • safety requirements
    • socio-technical aspects


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