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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: October 2009

9 - Modern work and safety


This chapter is concerned with safety within contemporary work contexts from a work and organizational psychology perspective. The aim of the chapter is to provide a critical appreciation of the contribution of recent questionnaire studies to modern work and safety issues in light of previous work on human error.


The scientific study of safety at work has been characterized by Hale and Hovden (1998) as having three ages. The first age was concerned with “technical measures to guard machinery, stop explosions and prevent structures collapsing” (p. 129) and lasted from the nineteenth century until after 1945. The second age, initiated between the two world wars, witnessed research into prevention measures based on personnel selection, training, and motivation, often referred to as theories of accident proneness. Hale and Hovden indicate that the technical and individual-based approaches merged in the 1960s and 70s with developments in ergonomics and probabilistic risk analysis, and the study of human error as a field of inquiry. They go on to identify the 1980s as characterized by “an increasing dissatisfaction with the idea that health and safety could be captured simply by matching the individual to technology” (p. 130) and that the 1990s were well into the third age of safety.

The third age Hale and Hovden (1998: 130) characterize as focused on management systems, and the literature, to the 1980s at least, as “accumulated common sense and as general management principles applied to the specific field of safety” rather than science.

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