Barriers and Accident Prevention
Ashgate publishing, 2005
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What do you think of when the term barrier is used? For me, it brings to mind something that stops progress, such as a gate or wall, or that maintains separation like the 'barrier' down the centre of a motorway. At the most basic level, the function of a barrier is to prevent an action or event from taking place or to provide protection from the consequences of an event that might cause harm. Thus, two key roles played by barriers are prevention and protection.
As the author of this informative book states, the concept of a barrier has been used in accident analysis for over 20 years, and yet in that time, there have been few attempts to formalise the concept or provide a systemic classification of barriers. This book rectifies that deficiency.
Its aim is better understanding of accidents the better to prevent them. Hollnagel views accidents as resulting from a complex of coincidences, rather than distinct individual causes, and argues that the best way of defending against them and their consequences is the use of barriers and defences. However, he does stress that barriers are not a panacea. Towards the end of the book, Hollnagel presents a method that can help make qualitative predictions of the type of accidents and incidents that may occur and provides a vehicle for building defences against them.
Having made a distinction between the terms accident, incident, near miss and cause, the book examines the theory of accidents and discusses the need to use a model to explain them. Hollnagel then describes some historical uses of barriers and examines their role in the prevention of accidents and in the context of barrier design and risk analysis. The final chapter, focussing on accident prevention, explains how a systemic accident model, referred to as the functional resonance accident model (FRAM), can be used in accident prevention. A four step process is described along with a simple illustrative example.
This is a very readable book and provides an excellent introduction to barriers and their use in accident prevention. However, FRAM calls out to be used on realistic case studies, and some of the ideas presented in Jens Rasmussen's report Proactive Risk Management in a Dynamic Society, which is also reviewed, could profitably inform its use.
Roger Shaw MIRM, Head of Risk Management, City & Hackney Teaching Primary Care Trust