Safety management through values: A critical engagement with the moral labor of disaster prevention

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Abstract

One way that safety is conceptualized in hazardous industries is as a value. Drawing on scholarship on corporate social responsibility and sociologies of emotional and moral labor, this article investigates how organizations cultivate values, and whether the promotion of safety as a value is a robust approach to major accident risk management. The findings are based on semi-structured interviews with 41 senior managers in oil and gas, mining, and chemical industries, who were asked about structural approaches to safety management through performance agreements and incentives, and the drivers of their safety behaviors. The research found that senior managers often claimed that safety behaviors were uniquely motivated by values or moral considerations, rather than structural interventions such as performance agreements and incentives. However, their reflections also revealed tensions that could arise between business and safety objectives, as well as work within organizations to structure values. I argue that the language of values clouds focus, shifting attention away from what organizations can do to manage their major risks. While structural interventions are only one part of the puzzle, given that risk decisions are not just value judgments, it is foolish to disregard the capacity for structures to guide the right behaviors and decisions, or the problems that will predictably arise where structural drivers are in conflict with the behaviors required for safe outcomes
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)484-491
Number of pages8
JournalSafety Science
Volume120
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019

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