Episode Summary

Our discussion today centers around a 2014 paper by a group of Norwegian academics (Almklov,  Rosness, & Størkersen) entitled “When safety science meets the practitioners: Does safety science contribute to marginalization of practical knowledge?” From the Journal of Safety Science, 67, 25-36.

Episode Notes

An excerpt from the paper’s abstract reads as follows: The proposition is based on theory about relationships between knowledge and power, complemented by organizational theory on standardization and accountability. We suggest that the increased reliance on self-regulation and international standards in safety management may be drivers for a shift in the distribution of power regarding safety, changing the conception of what is valid and useful knowledge. Case studies from two Norwegian transport sectors, the railway and the maritime sectors, are used to illustrate the proposition. In both sectors, we observe discourses based on generic approaches to safety management and an accompanying disempowerment of the practitioners and their perspectives.

Join us as we delve into the paper and endeavor to answer the question it poses. We will discuss these highlights:

  1. Safety science may contribute to the marginalization of practical knowledge
  2. How “paper trails” and specialists marginalize and devalue experience-based knowledge
  3. An applied science needs to understand the effects it causes, also from a power-perspective
  4. Safety Science should reflect on how our results interact with existing system-specific knowledge
  5. Examples from their case studies in maritime transport and railways

Discussion Points:

  • David has been traveling in the U.S. for much of January seeing colleagues
  • This is one of David’s favorite papers
  • Discussion of the paper’s authors being academics, not scientists
  • How does an organization create “good safety” and what does that look like?
  • The rise of homogenous international standards of safety
  • Can safety professionals transfer their knowledge and work in other industries
  • The two case studies in this paper: Norwegian railway and maritime systems/industries
  • The separation between top-down system safety and local, front-line practitioners
  • Our key takeaways from this paper
  • Send us your suggestions for future episodes, we are actively looking!


“If you understand safety, then it really shouldn’t matter which industry you’re applying it on.” – Dr. Drew Rae

“I can’t imagine, as a safety professional, how you’re impactful in the first 12 months [on a new job] until you actually understand what it is you’re trying to influence.” – Dr. David Provan

“It feels to me this is what happened here, that they formed this view of what was going on and then actually traced back through their data to try to make sense of it.” – Dr. David Provan

“I have to say I think they genuinely use these case studies to really effectively illustrate and support the argument that they’re making.” – Dr. Drew Rae

“Once we start thinking too hard about a function, we start formalizing it and once we start formalizing it, it starts to become detached from operations and sort of flows from that operational side into the management side.” – Dr. Drew Rae

“I don’t think it’s being driven by the academics at all and clearly it’s in the sociology of the profession’s literature all the way back to the 1950s and 60s.” – Dr. David Provan

“We’re fighting amongst ourselves as a non-working community about whose [safety] model should be the one to then impose on the genuine front line practitioners.” – Dr. Drew Rae


Link to Paper in JSS

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