The impact of personal liability concerns on incident reporting in engineered systems
Previous research on aviation and health sectors has found that individual blame for small failures discourages incident reporting and so adversely impacts disaster prevention. This finding has widely influenced practice in organizations relying on engineers. Based on a survey of Australian engineers (n = 275) this paper examines how personal legal liability considerations impact on hazard reporting and other forms of knowledge sharing. We found that 48% of engineers are more likely to report hazards despite changes in societal expectations and the tendency to blame. Only 5% indicated that they were less likely to report hazards as a result of their liability concerns. We suggest that these findings are due to the nature of engineering work, where decision-making is distributed across time, place and people. In this environment, blame and responsibility are less attributable to individual actors. Equally, reporting a hazard may act to transfer responsibility and so limit one’s personal liability.