Episode Summary

On this episode of Safety of Work, we dig into the question of whether individual blame lessens the ability to learn from failure. This was a special request and we are excited to discuss the relationship between learning and designing culpability for accidents. Specifically, we discuss the safety community’s willingness to talk about blame.

Episode Notes

This is a particularly controversial topic, so we are going to attempt to be as neutral as possible. We refer to the sources, A Review of Literature: Individual Blame vs. Organizational Function logics in Accident Analysis and Antecedents and Consequences of Organizational Silence to help frame our discussion.


  • Accountability in regards to safety in the workplace.
  • The papers referenced are commentaries, instead of studies.
  • Policy shifting to no-blame reporting systems.
  • A Tale of Two Stories gives two narrative perspectives on one incident.
  • Employee voice.
  • A climate of voice vs. a climate of silence.
  • Creating communication opportunities.
  • How blame can be a default.
  • Practical takeaways from the discussion.


“ ‘Employee voice’ covers a whole range of behaviors that people can do in organizations that are discretionary.”

“Ironically, when they spoke to a number of managers…as part of the study, managers believed they were encouraging employees to speak up, but on the other hand, they’re employing all sorts of informal tactics to silence this dissent.”

“There’s so many broader forces in their organization that are seeking resolution…that if you enable an approach where an individual can be blamed, then I think that will be the dominant logic in your investigation…”


Catino, M. (2008). A Review of Literature: Individual Blame vs. Organizational Function logics in Accident Analysis Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management16(1), 53-62.

Vakola, M., & Bouradas, D. (2005). Antecedents and Consequences of Organizational Silence an empirical investigation. Employee Relations.