Episode Summary

In today’s episode, we discuss the paper “Risk Management in a Dynamic Society: A Modelling Problem”  published in a 1997 volume of Safety Science by Jens Rasmussen (1926‑2018). Rasmussen was a renowned professor and researcher at the Riso Laboratory in Denmark.  As one of the most influential thinkers in safety and major hazard prevention, Rasmussen’s theories put forth in this article are still being used in safety science today.

Episode Notes

We will discuss how other safety science researchers have designed theories that use Rasmussen’s concepts, the major takeaways from Rasmussen’s article, and how safety professionals can use these theories to analyze and improve systems in their own organizations today.


  • Rasmussen’s history of influence, and the parallels to (Paul) Erdős numbers in research paper publishing
  • How Rasmussen is the “grandfather” of safety science
  • Rasmussen’s impact across disciplines and organizational categories through the years
  • The basics of this paper
  • Why risk management models must never be static
  • How other theorists and scientists take Rasmussen’s concepts and translate them into their own models and diagrams
  • The paper’s summary of the evolution of theoretical approaches up until ‘now’ (1997)
  • Why accident models must use a holistic approach including technology AND people
  • How organizations are always going to have pressures of resources vs. required results
  • Employees vs. Management– both push for results with minimal acceptable effort, creating accident risk
  • Rasmussen identified we need different models that reflect the real world
  • Takeaways for our listeners from Rasmussen’s work


“That’s the forever challenge in safety, is people have great ideas, but what do you do with them?  Eventually, you’ve got to turn it into a method.” – Drew Rae

“These accidental events are shaped by the activity of people.  Safety, therefore, depends on the control of people’s work processes.” – David Provan

“There’s always going to be this natural migration of activity towards the boundaries of acceptable performance.” – David Provan

“This is like the most honest look at work I think I’ve seen in any safety paper.” – Drew Rae

“If you’re a safety professional, just how much time are you spending understanding all of these ins and outs and nuances of work, and people’s experience of work? …You actually need to find out from the insiders inside the system. ” – David Provan

“‘You can’t just keep swatting at mosquitos, you actually have to drain the swamp.’ I think that’s the overarching conceptual framework that Rasmussen wanted us to have.” – David Provan



Compute your Erdos Number

Jens Rasmussen’s 1997 Paper

David Woods LinkedIn

Sidney Dekker Website

Nancy Leveson of MIT

Black Line/Blue Line Model

The Safety of Work Podcast

The Safety of Work on LinkedIn