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Addressing the foundations of safety science - relevance and benefits


In this paper we argue for the importance of addressing the foundations underpinning the field of safety science1. Through our own research we have come to acknowledge that there is no unitary standard for doing safety research and that how science views safety management and practice is dependent on the philosophical and methodological foundations of the scientists doing the research. Leaving these questions to themselves reveals a lasting influence of a positivist view of science, which attempted to establish a clear separation between science and philosophy. The scientific revolutions of the past century (most notably quantum physics) have led historians and philosophers to indicate quite the opposite (e.g. Hanson, 1959, Kuhn, 1962). Sciences embody and rest on underlying philosophical conceptions. Consequently, we need more focus on the foundations we use to model our approaches to safety, as explicitly or implicitly they do influences how safety is defined and what actions are considered necessary for controlling risk. As Dennett, a cognitive and evolution philosopher puts it 'there is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination? (Dennett, 1996, p7). Safety as an academic discipline is to a large extent missing the insights from various fields including discussions in the areas of philosophy, sociology and history of science and technology to fuel its own developments. We believe these are important issues to be raised and that safety researchers should aim to be more reflective regarding their (scientific) foundations. However, in order to approach questions such as these we need to have a more detailed understanding of what are relevant foundational issues that concern the safety science community and in which ways can we expect a more reflexive science to impact and develop our research. Consequently, this paper concentrates on the importance of addressing foundational issues, presenting some more detailed and relevant issues of concern and, finally, suggesting how working on foundational issues may prove to be beneficiary if moved higher up on the agenda within the community of safety scientists.
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ineris-00971193 , version 1 (02-04-2014)



Jean-Christophe Le Coze, Temmu Reiman, Kenneth Pettersen. Addressing the foundations of safety science - relevance and benefits. 22. SRA Europe Conference "Safe societies - coping with complexity and major risk", Jun 2013, Trondheim, Norway. ⟨ineris-00971193⟩


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