Abandoning antediluvian accident theory
by Bernard Corden
DOWNLOAD THE PAPER: Zero-to-HRO-08-September-2017.pdf (302 downloads)
The recent resources boom in Australia saw a commensurate focus on occupational health
and safety management. It also presented a unique opportunity to generate transformational
change using a process and evidence based approach. However, direct observation of
activities and confirmation from colleagues across many projects, indicates significant
regression and a resurgence of putative accident theory. This has been supplemented with a
plethora of nebulous soft systems change management processes, which includes the
ubiquitous and pestilential concept of zero harm.
This treatise reflects on the systematic destabilisation and emasculation of occupational
health and safety architecture over recent years and explores several interdependent and
exogenous contributory factors, which have compromised its legitimacy. This includes a race
to the bottom via rampant neoliberalism and its laissez faire doctrine, regulatory capture and
the embryonic gig economy with an inchoate precariat. It reviews the concurrent renaissance
of accident theory and compares its attributes with risk and energy damage principles, the
Shingo model of operational excellence and distinctive features of high reliability
It recommends abandoning atavistic accident theory and adopting a risk and energy damage
approach, which provides a process and evidence based framework to align with the guiding
principles of operational excellence and the unique traits of high reliability organisations.
Accident theory, risk theory, operational excellence, high reliability organisations.
Conflict of interest
The author of this paper declares no conflict of interest.
My gratitude extends to Professors Dennis Else, Derek Viner, David Borys, Steve Cowley
and the Intake 26 team from the Victoria Institute of Occupational Safety and Health at the
University of Ballarat for their wisdom and enlightenment.