chapter  11
The 2010s and Onward
Resilience Engineering
WithJohan Bergström, Sidney Dekker
Pages 39

Chapter 11 covers the field of resilience engineering. Resilience engineering is about identifying and then enhancing the positive capabilities of people and organizations that allow them to adapt effectively and safely under varying circumstances. Resilience is not about reducing negatives (incidents, errors, violations). Resilience engineering wants to understand and enhance how people themselves build, or engineer, adaptive capacities into their system, so that systems keep functioning under varying circumstances and conditions of imperfect knowledge. How do they create safety—by developing capacities that help them anticipate and absorb pressures, variations, and disruptions? Resilience engineering is inspired by a range of fields beyond traditional safety disciplines, such as physical, organizational, psychological, and ecological sciences. The organic systems studied in these fields are effective (or not) at adjusting when they recognize a shortfall in their adaptive capacity—which is key to the creation of resilience (or its disruption). Although this is not unique to this theory, the chapter finishes by concluding that resilience engineering, too, appears vulnerable to three analytical traps: a reductionist, a moral, and a normative one.

Finally, the book’s postscript reflects on a pattern that all approaches over the past century have seemingly adopted. From an innovation that typically targets the system in which people work, almost every approach seems to end up reverting, one way or another, to the people who work in that system. At the heart of this pattern is a dialectic—system or person? The future for safety science may well lie in our ability to break out of this dialectic and see people in systems, rather than people versus systems.